Fresno State has been moving forward with its plans to renovate an aging Bulldog Stadium, installing new fencing along Barstow and Cedar avenues and Bulldog Lane with branding elements to follow.
But the project got a major push forward Friday, with the athletic department announcing a lead gift of $1.5 million and issuing a request for a proposal for architects on the second, third and fourth phases of the project.
The donation was received from a former Bulldogs student-athlete who wished to remain anonymous. A letter of intent was signed Thursday night at a reception for Fresno State boosters.
“We’ve had very positive response, even before (Thursday) night: ‘I’m going to help you; here’s kind of what I’m thinking,’ ” athletic director Jim Bartko said Friday. “But that really was the kickoff, to get the first one signed and to get the money in hand. It’s a journey when you do these projects. They don’t happen every night. But when you finally get people in the room, and we’re going to do many more, it’s emotional when you start seeing people show what Fresno State means to them.
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“It was just neat to see. Even when you have a tough season – we’re always going to have tough seasons in different sports – but Fresno State is going to be here forever and this stadium needs the work done, and now there’s substance behind it. It’s not just me with renderings saying, ‘This is what I want.’ It brings it to life.”
The athletic department, Bartko said, has about $10 million in silent commitments of the $20 million required for the project, in addition to the anonymous gift, and is pursuing a naming rights deal that could bring in $20 million, in line with the market in college athletics. Recent agreements on college stadiums and arenas include Washington and Alaska Airlines ($41 million, 10 years), Illinois and State Farm Insurance ($60 million, 30 years), Cal and Kabam ($18 million, 15 years), Houston and the Texas Dow Employees Credit Union ($15 million, 10 years).
Fresno State will continue to raise money while moving forward on the project, which could run $60 million to $70 million.
“The RFP (request for proposal), we have to officially open the bids for the architects on a national front,” Bartko said. “It takes about 30 days to be open and then we’ll do 30 days of interviews and then let them come in and design. By August, end of August, we’ll have an architect on board and our goal then in those following six months is to finish raising the money and then break ground post-Mountain West championship football game at Bulldog Stadium in ’17.”
Fresno State worked with Aecom in developing initial plans for the renovation, which were unveiled last June and included four phases to update and upgrade the stadium to enhance fan experience.
The first phase focused on the fencing and branding of the stadium, the creation of a Bulldog Stadium District encompassing Beiden Field as well as the soccer/lacrosse stadium.
Phase Two of the project is a renovation of the seating bowl and addition of a cross aisle with tunnels at the northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest that would significantly increase access to the seating areas and ease of movement inside the stadium. The number of concessions points of sale would be increased, as well as restroom facilities.
Phase Three includes the addition of a stadium tower and upgrades to the 22 suites on the east side of the stadium that were added in 1991. The new tower would hold premium seating for all levels of ticket buyers – a suite level, a stadium club and club seating and loge seating at the top rows of the bowl – as well as additional signage and sponsorship opportunities for an athletic department that ranked only eighth of 12 in the Mountain West in total and premium seat revenue for the 2014 season.
The fourth phase is a football operations building behind the south end zone, which would include offices and meeting rooms, a new locker room and an outdoor alumni lounge area.
The target date for completion of the first three phases is September 2019, when the Bulldogs are scheduled to play Minnesota of the Big Ten Conference in their home opener.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada