PULLMAN – Late Saturday afternoon, Washington State University safety Chima Nwachukwu leaped in the east end zone of Martin Stadium and intercepted a Southern Methodist pass, all but ensuring the Cougars’ 30-27 overtime victory.
Seventy hours later athletic director Jim Sterk stood in nearly the same spot and announced the school was leaping forward with the stalled Phase III renovation of Martin Stadium.
“This has been a long haul getting Phase III to this point,” Sterk said Tuesday of the ongoing changes of the venerable stadium. “It hasn’t been for the weak of heart.”
WSU has already spent $27 million on the first two phases of stadium renovation, planning for which started in 2003 and construction in 2006. Those phases included expanding the north concourse and rebuilding the east entrance and walkways.
But Phase III would dwarf the previous changes. Plans call for 16 luxury boxes (costing $35,000 to $50,000 annually), 31 loge boxes (four or six semi-private seats costing $9,000 to $15,000) and 1,217 club seats ($1,700 to $2,000). All told, it will add 2,200 premium seats to the stadium’s listed capacity of 35,117.
Originally budgeted at $40 million, Sterk said the shrinking economy, lower borrowing and construction costs and some design changes have cut about $8 million off the cost.
However, that same economy, with tight budgets and credit, forced the project’s postponement last year.
Now, Sterk said, the silent portion of fundraising has brought in $16 million in donations and pledges from some 100 donors, and it is time to go public even though the football program has struggled the past two years.
“It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as far as where those construction costs are,” Sterk said. “It’s not going to go backwards. It’s only going to get more expensive.
“It’s also an opportunity to show we are building a foundation for our football program, so it can continue to move forward in the Pac-10.”
The renovation would double the amount of money the stadium produces for the athletic department, Sterk said.
For his part, football coach Paul Wulff sees a recruiting benefit.
“We’re doing an outstanding job recruiting now, but this will just give us another boost,” Wulff said. “There is a direct correlation (between) facilities and recruitment, as there has been at Oregon State and Oregon.”
The person who spearheaded the Autzen Stadium project, former Cougars football player and Oregon athletic director Bill Moos, attended the press conference to expand on what the stadium expansion would mean to WSU.
“It’s extremely important,” Moos said. “This is a very competitive conference. The young people today will many times choose their school in regards to the facilities. And the stadium is a big part of that.”
Sterk said groundbreaking will occur after WSU receives deposits for 80 percent of the premium seats, with a goal of opening for the 2012 season, though that could be moved up if fundraising goes faster than anticipated.
There are commitments for seven or eight luxury boxes and 26 of the 31 loges boxes, Sterk said.
“We really haven’t gone out and sold club seats yet,” Sterk said, though that effort began Tuesday.
Asked about state funding, Sterk said the school isn’t seeking any.
“President (Elson) Floyd has been adamant that at this time it’s not appropriate to ask for stadium support,” he said, obviously referring to the University of Washington’s request for $150 million from the legislature to help renovate Husky Stadium.
“However, if that changes, if the governor and legislature have an interest in funding stadium remodels at this time, then we will have a bill ready.”