ATHENS – Georgia’s massive new stadium project hadn’t even been formally approved yet, and school president Jere Morehead was already going into fundraising mode. The goal, you see, is for most of it to be paid by fans, and only a bit for the reserve fund, so Morehead apparently knew he had to justify it.
“I share the athletic director’s optimism that these two initiatives the indoor athletic facility and the west end zone project, are certainly going to put the University of Georgia at a very competitive advantage in the Southeastern Conference,” Morehead told the athletic board. “And I hope and expect they’re going to lead to even greater success for our football program in the future.”
Then the board unanimously approved the $63 million project to rebuild Georgia’s dilapidated locker room on the other side of the stadium, along with a recruiting room that Kirby Smart was urging, and a nice plaza to accompany the project.
Great, right? Well, based on the feedback from many fans upon news of the stadium project, there are plenty of grumbles that the fan experience isn’t getting financial attention too. For instance, the fans are, er, ticked about the state of bathrooms at Sanford Stadium. The locker rooms may be old, but the bathrooms are from the 1970s, one fan said in a phone call. The concession facilities are also below par, fans say, leading to over-crowding and just a cramped, uncomfortable experience in the concourses.
So acting on behalf of those fans, this reporter asked athletics director Greg McGarity about just that.
“We’re trying to maximize everything we can,” McGarity said, speaking about the stadium as a whole. “As far as renovating restrooms, we’ll start with another – sort of our normal standard operating procedure is to make them as new as they possibly could be. But with this addition it does relieve a lot of the pressure in the main gate area and the west end of the stadium.”
Speaking of relieving a lot of pressure, the west end project will actually include four new bathrooms. (Two men’s and two women’s.) But it doesn’t address the rest of the stadium, or the other parts of Sanford that fans feel could use renovation.
A rendering of the concourse for the new west end zone project. (UGA).
It wasn’t just the bathroom issue. This massive financial commitment – as needed as it apparently is – raised other questions.
How deep-pocketed are Georgia fans at this point, after already shelling out for the indoor facility. Georgia exceeded its fundraising goal for the $30.2 million indoor facility, and thus will be able to use some of those funds towards the west end zone project.
“I think one thing is we have just scratched the surface,” McGarity said, pointing to 475 people contributing to the $36 million raised for the indoor facility.
“Our donors have been fantastic. But we just have to remember that there are 475 donors that gave us the funds to do this. We just now there’s tremendous upside there.”
Naming rights aren’t close to the indoor facility, McGarity acknowledged.
“You always have prospects that we’re really trying to develop and work. But nothing at this time,” McGarity said.
Then there’s the vision thing. UGA seems to be hopping from one major facility project to another, while sprinkling in many smaller projects, not only for football but other sports.
Why not go with a big master plan, as some other schools (like Clemson) have done?
McGarity pointed to a master plan that did exist in the late 2000s, that included an indoor building further off campus. He also pointed to a plan he saw in 1999 that had an indoor facility being built right on this spot.
“You prioritize stuff as they become important,” he said. “A master plan, it probably touches every facility that we have. So there’s a lot of other projects for other facilities that are in a master plan. But a lot of things are important as we go on, and some things rise to the level of importance.”
And for now, bathrooms in areas other than the west end zone don’t reach that level of importance. Fans will just have to hold it a bit longer.
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