Football: UL has big decision to make on Cajun Field renovation
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 28, 2019
Those two factors will be weighed heavily as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette decides how to spend between roughly $45 million to $65 million on a long-planned renovation of its football stadium, Cajun Field, Ragin’ Cajuns athletic Bryan Maggard told The Daily Advertiser.
More than six years after the school initially announced its intentions in 2013, however, it still remains to be seen when the first shovel will go into the ground to begin construction on the primary part of the project.
“We’ve narrowed it to down to three renovation design concepts,” said Maggard, who as of Monday still was waiting to receive further information on the three.
“We … should be very close to getting, as close as we can, an apples-to-apples comparison on the project cost.”
The Ragin' Cajuns plan $45-to-$65 million worth of renovation work at Cajun Field, including a makeover on this side of the stadium. (Photo: James Mays/Special to the Advertiser)
Once in hand, Maggard said, that estimate will give the Cajuns “a better idea of what we’re gonna have to do to go out and fund raise, and what the premium seating annual revenue can look like, and things of that nature, so we can get a business plan together, and go forward.
“But we really can’t do that,” he added, “until we know what we’re looking at from a total project cost standpoint.”
Once the proposals and estimates are received, Maggard said, “we can sit down internally and decide what direction we feel we can best go.”
The ultimate selection, Maggard said, will be influenced by three major criteria.
“We’re gonna look to be efficient,” he said. “It needs to be a very functional facility and, honestly, something that’s affordable.”
What UL is waiting to receive are not extensively detailed proposals, but instead, according to Maggard, “more about spaces and blocks, and how we’re filling the blocks,” along with cost estimates based on square footage, level of materials used and finishes.
“But it doesn’t mean we will leave this estimating exercise,” Maggard said, “with the exact details of what a suite will look like.”
Plans for Cajun Field renovation first were made public in 2013.
In 2014, seating for approximately 5,000 was added to one end zone in 2014, replacing a grassy hill. That pushed stadium capacity to a listed 41,462.
According to the university's original athletics facilities master plan, additional stadium expansion in intervals was proposed. If each phase eventually was to be built, proposed capacity could conceivably exceed 65,000.
Initially, in 2013, two options for renovating Cajun Field’s upper deck were presented.
Both called for total replacement of the current press-box/suites structure on the west side of the stadium, including a new eight-story press box facility and new premium seating to replace the decaying structure.
The original cost estimate for that work was $57.6 million.
Now, Maggard said, “I doubt it’s gonna be much lower than $45 million, and I don’t anticipate us going higher than $60-to-$65 million.”
THE UPPER DECK
Maggard, who replaced former athletic director Scott Farmer in March 2017, said UL has “probably deviated from the Cajun Field stadium aspect” of the masterplan, which was authored by 360 Architecture and the Lemoine Company.
“I haven’t really studied that design in great detail,” Maggard said. “But I’m sure it will be different than what was originally proposed.
“But keep in mind: That was conceptual as well," he said. "Master plans often are conceptual in nature, so I’m not sure there was ever full intention to necessarily develop that stadium to look exactly as it was laid out in the master plan.”
Current thinking, Maggard said, is “we’ll probably look at starting with maybe a west side and a north end (zone) concourse first, and we may not completely do anything on the east (side) until a later phase.
“You’re looking at premium (west-side) seating to include club space, suites, some loge boxes (that) would be outside. We would look to incorporate club seating … at a club level, which would be Level 2. It just varies, what it could look like.
“And I anticipate we would do some upgrades with the existing bowl, making sure that we get nicer chairs in there and make them a more fan friendly, comfortable experience.”
Maggard said the stadium’s current upper deck will be “altered,” either partially or totally.
“There’s a scenario where that entire upper deck could come down, and you would build … a west tower that goes up. Or you may keep part of that upper deck there, and continue to build a new tower.”
In any case, Maggard added, “I do not anticipate the height being the same as it is today.
"I would anticipate everything would be closer to the field.”
There also has been a long-standing plan to move UL’s athletic department offices into the new west-wide tower, which would allow their current home – the nearby Cox Communications Center – to be demolished.
That would make room for some sort of athletic plaza open space unifying the football stadium, a baseball stadium that underwent an $18.5 million renovation in recent years and other athletic facilities, all of which were part of the original master plan.
But that remains up in the air too.
“A final decision still needs to be made on the future of the Cox building,” Maggard said. “It would not surprise me if it were to come down.
“Really, the whole concept of putting administrative offices over in the west tower would be to free up the Cox building so it could be torn down and incorporate some level of design of a plaza.”
'WAIT AND SEE'
No part of the plan, however, has been finalized.
Instead, much depends on what UL picks from the trio of proposals coming from the design, architecture, engineering and planning firm HOK.
In 2015, Missouri-headquartered HOK acquired 360 Architecture, also the designer of UL’s athletic performance center that opened in late 2015 and serves as headquarters for the Cajuns football team and supports student-athletes from all UL sports.
“We just kind of have to wait and see how everything comes back,” Maggard said, “and then just kind of make some realistic decisions.
“But, again, we’re gonna focus on efficiency, functionality and affordability.”
Decision-making, according to Maggard, will be made by a group including himself, “campus leadership” including “select vice presidents,” facility management personnel and “certain individuals within our athletic department.”
Input will be sought from head football coach Billy Napier as well, and Maggard said UL president Joseph Savoie “will have final say on it.”
All three concepts that currently are being priced out are “pretty similar,” Maggard said, but the varying options mean future seating capacity remains uncertain.
The range falls somewhere from 35,000 to 45,000 after the phase of work to come next.
“It’s possible we may have to cannibalize some seats with a certain design,” the athletic director said.
“Could we draw it a little below 40,000? Absolutely. But that’s okay, you know? Whatever we do, it’s gonna be designed in a manner that will allow us to expand should we ever need to.”
Once the proposals are received from HOK, Maggard isn’t sure how long it will take UL to narrow its choice from three to one.
But once a decision is made, the program can proceed with fundraising efforts – starting in a silent phase – to subsidize the project.
That includes the sale of suites and future premium seating.
But before a capital campaign goes public, Maggard said, “you’d want to go out and try to identify a lead gift, and that usually comes in the form of a naming opportunity for the stadium.”
“We have a short list of candidates for that,” he said without being specific, “and have sat down and approached different people on that opportunity.”
The stadium project actually was its silent phase of fundraising under former athletic director Farmer, and Maggard said “maybe a few million dollars” of capital has been raised for this work in particular.
“We’re not anywhere near close to what we need to do,” he said. “But we do have a little start.”
'IT CAN'T HAPPEN SOON ENOUGH'
How long the build itself will take remains unknown.
“It depends on things they do or don’t find,” Maggard said.
In any case, work likely would begin in November or December of whatever year the project gets its go-ahead – after the conclusion of a Cajun football home season – so that construction could continue uninterrupted during the winter, spring and summer.
Maggard said he’d anticipate the Cajuns would be able to continue using the stadium for games even while some aspect of the construction is underway as well.
“It’s a process,” he said, “and it’s a scheduling strategy, for sure, but that’s where you rely on your construction managers with all of that.”
As for when a shovel actually hits the ground for the project, that remains the looming unanswered question for a stadium that turns 50 in 2021.
“For me, it can’t happen soon enough,” Maggard said.
“But I’m also wise enough to know there’s just certain things you can’t control, so … it would be pretty premature of me to even try to speculate on that.
“Trust me,” he added, “I’d love to (say), but I don’t know.”
Asked, though, if he was talking a few more years, five to 10 years or 10 to 20, Maggard did answer that.
“Well, if it’s five to 10,” he said, “then I’m not gonna be athletic director here anymore. I’d like to think it’s certainly gonna be sooner than that.”