When Fresno State opens its 2019 football season, it could also be opening a renovated Bulldog Stadium and at a news conference Friday, athletic director Jim Bartko unveiled the full vision and scope of those plans.
New suites. New stadium club. A new football operations building in the south end zone.
And a renovated seating bowl, allowing fans easier access to their seats as well as concessions, services and restrooms. The hike up the berms on the west and east sides of the stadium will be eliminated for a majority of fans, once the project is completed.
The Bulldogs open Sept. 3 against Abilene Christian, and there will new a new high definition scoreboard at the north end of the stadium.
But there is an expectation, Bartko said, that the first part of the four-phase renovation will have a hold as well. It will not be complete, but changes have been made to allow tailgating in the lots around the stadium to run from four hours before kickoff straight through to two hours after the game and some fencing will be moved to enhance the game-day experience.
“I never really understood why we didn’t let fans tailgate during the game,” Bartko said. “I think a lot of people come, say they bring their parents who couldn’t go to the game or have kids who want to stay and just play catch. But an hour before the game you shut them down, they have to put everything away, then the game is over and it opens back up for two hours … let’s let our fans tailgate.
“They’re going to come to the game and if we’re good, they’re going to come into the stadium. If they want to stay out in the parking lot or if they have people they want to bring and just enjoy the atmosphere, let them. We’re going to keep that open all game and not take that away. You won’t need to put your tent away an hour before the game and go in, if you want to stay out there and enjoy it.”
Inside the stadium, a fence on the east will be pushed back toward the soccer/lacrosse stadium, creating space for portable concessions, a beer garden and other amenities; a hint of what is to come. When the first phase of the project is complete, branded fencing will create a Bulldog District to the east of the stadium that includes a kids zone/play area, more concessions, a pregame stage and restrooms.
It will include the areas around the soccer/lacrosse stadium and Beiden Field. In conceptual drawings produced by Aecom, a global architecture and engineering firm that has developed more than 100 college and professional stadiums and arenas, the ticket office and one of the main entrances to Bulldog Stadium would be off Cedar Avenue with fans entering through that game-day festival zone.
“What we want to be able to do in a phase-by-phase system is to be able to take the fences and move the fences out so that the footprint of the stadium becomes bigger,” said Paul Ladwig, senior associate athletic director/external relations.
Inside the stadium, a fence on the east will be pushed back toward the soccer/lacrosse stadium, creating space for portable concessions, a beer garden and other amenities;
“Once you come in the gate, which might be 100 yards away from the stadium, now you’re in the stadium so when it’s all said and done, you’re within Bulldog Stadium so all of the things the stadium has to offer, you’re in.”
The installation of the HD video board, which will be twice the size of the existing scoreboard, already has started.
The old board will start to be removed Monday, the support pillars will be reinforced and painted and the video board is expected to be in place my mid- to late August.
“I’ve already seen pictures of the semi-trucks with the fabrication that is being driven in from Kansas City or someplace.” Ladwig said. “Once it’s all painted and all the fabrication is up, then they’ll stat shipping in the new board and we start testing on Aug. 26, a week before the first football game.”
The 24-foot by 66-foot video board, which will be accompanied by a 104-foot ribbon board, will be installed, serviced and operated by ANC Sports Enterprises.
The Bulldogs, Bartko said, will build from there. They have a vision and a plan in place, but a lot of work ahead for a project that, sources said, could cost $80 million to complete.
“We’re going to make some small changes this year to make it better, next year hopefully maybe do some fencing, because those things can be done without construction.” Bartko said. “We can make the gate area and the tailgating experience better, expand the footprint and then hopefully by that time we have the financing in place and the money in place. Best-case scenario, I would love in 2019 to have a lot of this done, but you don’t know. We’re early on and three months into it … it takes some time.
“But I think you’ll see some changes this year, definitely. Next year, some more changes. And hopefully by that time we’re ready to go full bore, but we’ll kind of play that by ear.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada