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Since architecture is a visual art, and buildings speak for themselves, Nebraska will showcase both time-tested simplicity and modern-day elegance in the $63.5 million expansion of its East Stadium.
When the curtain went up to reveal Memorial Stadium's last likely major expansion project Wednesday night on Expand Their Experience, Big Red fans around the world finally could see architectural renderings that warms, exalts and stimulates every sense you have of the only stadium in the history of college football to sell out 311 consecutive games.
If you were thinking this expansion might be just another round of more suites, more club seats and more reserved seats growing out of more concrete to increase game-day crowds from 85,000 to 91,000, you learned otherwise.
This isn't just a facial. This is an extreme makeover that will literally raise the roof, making the East Stadium roughly twice as tall as it is now, so it can include two 20,000-square feet areas, one of which will be the home for the Nebraska Athletic Research Facility, which will use cutting-edge imaging technologies and research to better understand foundations of behavior that contribute to health, injury and disease.
If architecture is a social activity that can communicate, interact and change behavior, Nebraska has hit the jackpot on this one. The East Stadium architecture is designed to have a timeless-like quality, and fans got a glimpse of it by visiting Expand Their Experience for projected images and a video flythrough.
Ingram: We Will Enclose the Façade, Then Enshrine It
Two Nebraska associate athletic directors - John Ingram, who is spearheading the project's design and construction, and Paul Meyers, who is leading the fundraising to complement what Nebraska is taking out of its reserves to pay for the project - can't help but show their excitement for a new East Stadium that will alter Lincoln's skyline and dramatically enhance a game-day experience that's already second to none.
"With this expansion, we're keeping the old, historic stadium façade that greets Nebraska fans from the east," Ingram said. "We're enclosing that façade and then we're enshrining it, so fans can still experience the traditional outside of the stadium at the same time they experience the new part. I think our fans will love coming through the new, three-story glass entryway and being able to see the old, traditional East Stadium dome."
Meyers believes the expansion's simplicity and elegance and its preservation of history will help his development team connect with donors who want to contribute. "The historical value is what makes this project so unique and so interesting," he said. "We've kept history a part of the innovation. That's important because it's who we are. We always go back to our roots in everything we do and every decision we make. This structure encompasses our history because that's where we came from. We don't forget what's been valuable to us and now is the right time to change the face of Memorial Stadium."
It's the right time because Meyers has survey documentation showing that demand for Nebraska football tickets, plus suites and club seats, is at an all-time high while construction costs are at an all-time low.
"It was a perfect scenario for us as we get ready to move into the Big Ten Conference," Meyers said. "We did our research, and the results even surprised us."
Research Will Integrate University/Students with Athletics
Research will be a hallmark in the expanded East Stadium, which will add more than 6,400 seats, including 2,100 club seats, to Memorial Stadium's capacity. Ingram said there will be 38 new suites in the expanded East Stadium, and Meyers said demand is high and donors are already making down payments to reserve their spots.
In addition to the 20,000 square feet reserved for the Nebraska Athletic Research Facility, another 20,000 square feet area will be devoted to campus research.
"That's a big part of what we consider to be our ultimate competitive advantage," Meyers said. "Not only are we investing in our facilities and coaching perhaps better than anyone in America, but we're also, on a daily basis, researching ways to do it better - nutritionally, medically and psychologically. Our new athletic research facility will reflect our national leadership in strength and conditioning and other areas that are so important to athletic performance.
"What I love about Nebraska is when you come here as a student-athlete you don't know how good you can be," Meyers said. "We have a reputation of taking student-athletes to places they never thought they could go and helping them achieve things they never thought were possible."
According to Meyers, the new research facility is important to all current upgrades in which Nebraska Athletics is investing - the football stadium expansion, the new basketball and wrestling practice facility that will be completed by October, the new practice facility for baseball and softball that opens this September and the improvement project for Nebraska volleyball after basketball moves out of the Devaney Center and into the new West Haymarket Arena in 2013.
Athletic Leaders Juggling Four Projects at the Same Time
"We have four significant projects going on simultaneously, and we're excited about all four of them," Meyers said. "Each one will have an impact on each sport. When we talk about Nebraska with our donors, we're not just talking about being great in football. We want to be great in everything we do, and those are important elements for our fan base. We have baseball and softball programs that are capable of winning national championships. Our volleyball program has already won several national championships. We know we're already a power in football, and basketball is an area with tremendous upside. We haven't scratched the surface of greatness, but these new facilities are the first step to help us reach those goals."
Ingram agrees and says the research facility housed inside of one of America's most historic football stadiums is one of the most exciting things about the East Stadium expansion. "Not only are we doing this for our fans and for our student-athletes," he said, "but we're also doing this for the university and the students. I think it's really neat when you get to create unique and collaborative research space inside the same stadium that's been here since 1923."
The expansion will inspire Nebraska fans young and old. The signature entry point of the expansion will highlight the historic Gate 20 entrance with three stories of glass windows that will allow the architecture to show through.
Because all architecture is great architecture after sunset, Nebraska will capitalize on one of its newest, most visible landmarks. At night, the old East Stadium entrance will shine bright with detailed accent lighting and will blend into the new modern, yet traditional space. There also will be a simple elegance about the interior design that will be compatible with the new architecture.
Nostalgic Traditions Mixed with Next-Generation Research
Ingram said that throughout the highly visible space, fans will encounter branded elements and color schemes that help recognize the history and the traditions of Nebraska football.
The Husker Legacy football statue that has stood outside the East Stadium since 1997 will be moved to accommodate the extra construction, but the result will be a new kind of game-day experience for Husker fans. It will set itself apart from other expansions with more of a traditional feel that is going to bleed nostalgia and blend with a state-of-the-art fan experience that Nebraska officials believe will be difficult to rival.
Mixing the old-school tradition with next-generation research will create an element of surprise and could make the East Stadium almost as famous as Memorial Stadium itself. The transformation is almost certain to create show-stopping video for any network that will televise Nebraska in the future.
Ingram said the three levels of East Stadium balconies will allow fans to overlook the campus and make for a game-day experience like few others. The outdoor patio spaces overlook the East Plaza, Husker Nation Pavilion and "the loop" with a clear view of Ed Weir Stadium and the NU Coliseum on the north side and historic Morrill Hall on the south side.
Those spaces are sure to be sought-after spots because they will be the only place in the stadium where a fan can be outside on a patio, yet still be "in" the stadium.
The East Stadium is built for convenience for anyone that enters - from the moment they step in the door to the time they sit down in their seat to cheer on the Big Red.
A Separate Building Will Be Built Over Existing Structure
Because the expansion will be constructed as a totally separate building over the existing structure, Ingram said no existing seats in the East Stadium will be impacted.
"The trend in college athletics is to build suites lower, so our East Stadium suites will be the same as the fifth-level seats on the west side," Ingram said. That means 15 rows of regular seats will be built above all suite levels from goal-line to goal line, creating an intimidating view for visiting teams to Memorial Stadium.
"It will also be much louder for the visiting team because there will be more than 6,000 extra seats looking down at them," Ingram said.
Another new twist for Nebraska will be one balcony area that can accommodate more than 500 standing-room-only patrons that can be reserved for corporate events or suite owners who want to purchase such opportunities on a single-game basis.
The great thing about all new club-level seats and upper-level seats in the East Balcony area is that all restrooms and concessions are located right behind the seats. Escalators will also be available to take fans all the way from the ground to all new concourse levels, including the upper-most seats.
According to Ingram, construction will begin this spring with the placement of auger cast pilings for the structural steel supporting the north stair tower, plus the steam tunnel and utilities. "We'll start erecting steel right after the 2011 season, and it will be finished 20 months later in time for the 2013 season," he said. "The timetable will be very similar to how we did the West Stadium. In 2012, we will be in transition with people walking through a new building that will still be part of a construction site."
Meyers: Fans Create the Ultimate Competitive Advantage
The East Stadium exterior will be a combination of brick and concrete.
Like Ingram and Meyers, both Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne and UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman have sat in mocked-up bench seats that would reach the highest level in the East Stadium. "They liked the view," Ingram said.
"When you sit up at that level," Meyers said, "you see the field from an entirely different perspective. You know you're up there but as you continue to sit there, all of a sudden you realize how clear the game can be."
Meyers is as enthused about the East Stadium expansion as anyone, but he doesn't want Nebraska fans to think any new construction will ever put Husker fans in the shadows.
"There just aren't many stadiums in America that can accomplish what we accomplish on game day," he said. "It's one thing to have the structure itself, which is incredible and invaluable because it's the same structure where we beat the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.
"But it's the people who sit in those seats that make the difference," Meyers said. "That's where Nebraska has always separated itself. The people who sit in those seats are more passionate, louder, more caring for their team and more appreciative of the other team than any other program in America. That's why we want to give the student-athletes who play for our fans the ultimate competitive advantage, and that's why we want to expand their experience."
You Can Help Expand the Nebraska Student-Athlete Experience
Expand Their Experience is all about broadening the experience of the Nebraska student-athlete. "The intent of this fundraising campaign is to provide them with every opportunity they can possibly have to be great," Meyers said. "Once you get to the expandtheirexperience.com website, you understand why we want to deliver "The Ultimate Competitive Advantage".
"The only reason we're able to do things that no one else can do is because our fans are different than everyone else's fans," Meyers said. "Our tradition is built on their tradition. We're different here. We live fairly simply. Our core values and our relationships are based on a value system that ultimately leads to our success. There really is no place like Nebraska."
Voices from Husker Nation
Holy Moly, Man, Woman, and Child! This will really put them in the aisles! This now means I have to make more migration trips back to Nebraska to see this "sacred shrine" of the college football world. I can't imagine improving the game experience much more than it already is but this is going to put the experience through the roof for fans. A message to future recruits: Don't bother looking anywhere else. You have EVERYTHING you need right here. I'm getting goose bumps just thinking of the future of Husker athletics! There is absolutely NO place like Nebraska! Brad Loseke, Beaverton, Oregon