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One-on-one: Isaac Manning, project representative, Sun Devil Stadium

As the first phase of redevelopment of the Sun Devil Stadium nears completion, Stadia talks to Isaac Manning about the project

 

Phase One of the US$256m redevelopment of the Sun Devil Stadium will be completed by September 1, in time for the new season to begin on September 12. Stadia talks to Isaac Manning about the challenges of fitting around season dates, what will be complete when fans enter the venue, and what the next two stages of construction will bring


Is Phase One of the redevelopment still on schedule for the start of September?
Yes, we’re on schedule for September 1. The first stage of the project was really to get what we call the beginnings of what we call the Double Inferno – which is the student section – taken care of first. And we’re on schedule for September 1. And we have a game on September 12. So these guys started in late December, early January and basically replaced all the existing high school bleachers at the south end of the stadium. And dug everything up and started over again. And we’re delivering 6,500 brand new student seats.

Was there any extra pressure due to there being a game scheduled?
It’s the nature of the business. It’s what everybody in the business signs up for. There’s always a game, and in some cases you have a little bit more time to work out the kinks. But a lot of the planning is done way in advance, so everybody knows what they have to have done by the 12th.

 

 

What do you think fans arriving on that day will be most struck by?
I think the biggest thing is what’s missing. And because Sun Devil Stadium has been around for a long time, one of the things that we’re doing, and one of the main things in the three phases of development that will ultimately be done by 2017, is to create a main concourse and to knit the lower bowl together. Right now at ASU, the only level of the stadium is the lowest level, which has now been completely destroyed. That was the only way to really get around the stadium so what people will notice when they come in, this year and next year, is that we’ve got a stadium under construction. You’ll see the beginnings of the main concourse, which is what we’ve done in the student section. That’s really the foreshadowing of the completion of the stadium, because that’s the biggest change. Ultimately it will be how you enter the stadium, with the grand staircases, but for right now, they’re going to say: “Oh my god, what happened to our stadium?”

Will they be able to see work ongoing, or does development stop during the season?
We’re doing what we call enabling work for the second phase, which is doing some collars on some structural columns and getting everything ready. After the last game of the season, on November 21, the operations guys basically have about 48 hours to clear out all their mess, and then the contractor takes control of the stadium, and we go again from November 25 until September 1 again – with a very complicated second phase. Redoing the upper decks, the main concourse, everything. Everything goes on the west side of the project between November and September next year.

 

 

And then a similar schedule for phase three?
Yes. We made the decision to stay in Sun Devil Stadium, and continue to play through. And it’s up to the design and construction team, the university’s management and so on, to communicate with the fans about what’s going and what’s going to be available and what’s not. The college campus wanted to keep their kids on campus, and make the stadium the center of the campus – and that’s the reason for what we’re doing, and the why we’re doing it the way we’re doing it.

Do you think there’s any one part of the complete redevelopment that will draw the most praise from spectators?
I think the Sun Devil fans are going to be impressed by a number of things. And when you go through the list of the elements of the stadium that they really wanted to have improved – and this is going to sound terrible, but there are going to be bathrooms on every level of the stadium, everywhere that people sit. Today, on the upper concourse on the east side, there are no concessions and no bathrooms. So it’s the little stuff that fans want to see. So the concessions will be appropriately sized, the bathrooms are appropriately sized to the number of seats. The openness of the stadium, I think, will show a tremendous difference – in terms of the views in and out of the stadium. It will be dramatically different for the fans. And then we’re going through the procurement process for a new stadium food service vendor. An army lives on its stomach, and so does the fan experience.

The other piece that we are spending a ton of time and money on is working on getting Wi Fi into the stadium. It’s a university, so we’re doing a joint venture research project with Intel on fan experience and how technology works within the stadium – interestingly enough, this is a joint venture with Dublin City University and their facility at Croke Park. The relationship between ASU and Dublin City University means there’s a research component to the stadium that should enhance fan experience. And Intel is very excited about this. As the university is.

 

 

What are you most excited to see of the redevelopment?
The thing I’m most interested in is the challenge that Dr Crow has put on the table, which is to make Sun Devil Stadium a 365-day-a-year venue. When you look at stadium usage – I’m a real estate guy, so I hate spending money on items that sit. The mandate that Dr Crow has handed to the university is that we’ve got a facility here that is used about 240 hours a year. The available hours that are left is about 8,600 plus. And we need to figure out what to do with those. So what I’m most excited about is the opportunity to bring the university community into the stadium on non-game days, and work with the students, the faculty and the research staff, as well as the community, to utilize the stadium for events and hangout space – and to really make this the calling card for the university.

What kind of events do you think might find a home there?
ASU has got 80,000 kids enrolled in the university, which is a staggering number of students. Working with the student government and the renovations committee, what’s interesting is to hear what the kids want to do with it. The kids are saying they want to have all their meetings there, and their job interviews. They want the concessions opened so they can hang out on the concourses. They want to do movie nights on the field. They want concerts, and they want to use the sun deck, which is the area at the north end of the stadium. They want to be able to use the facility, all the time, for all the things they want to do. And we’re reaching out to the valley community, as well as across campus, to figure out what the fan base and the community want to do with the venue when it’s not being used for football.

 

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