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University of Utah
A rendering of the upcoming expansion of Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY — Rice-Eccles Stadium is expanding. The football home of the Utah Utes will grow from a capacity of 45,807 to 51,444 under an estimated $80 million project approved by the University of Utah’s Board of Trustees.

The expansion project will involve the south end zone. The current building and seats will be demolished and replaced with a new structure that connects the east and west concourses — turning the stadium into a bowl.

“The best game-day environment that currently exists is only going to get better,” said Utah athletics director Mark Harlan. “I mean, can you imagine how loud it’s going to be when we enclose that?”

Besides the addition of 1,000 more bleacher or chair seats and premium seating (loge boxes and luxury suites) that will take the stadium’s capacity to more than 51,000, the project will include new locker rooms for the Utes and their opponents, space for coaches, officials, athletic training, equipment, the media and the Utah Marching Band. Concession stands, restrooms, a kitchen, a recruiting lounge, a field-level lounge, and an outdoor patio are also in the plans.

University of Utah president Ruth V. Watkins said Rice-Eccles Stadium is “a spectacular, iconic symbol for our community.” Not only for the university, she continued, but also for Salt Lake City. Watkins noted that remarkable things have happened at the facility.

“The stadium serves as more than a home for athletics. It’s a gathering place for our community,” she said at a press conference Wednesday morning at the stadium. “It serves many needs at the university and beyond. It convenes thousands of people every year around some of our shared missions. It’s an exciting thing.”

Watkins noted that Utah football has had 56 consecutive sellouts at the stadium and has a wait list of about 3,000 for season tickets.

" It’s huge for our program. Obviously, the football program is very excited about this project. It’s going to help us on a lot of different levels. "
Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham

The stadium renovations, which are conditional on financing approval, are expected to be completed in time for the 2021 football season. The design follows a feasibility study that was conducted in 2017, involving input from athletic donors, alumni, fans and ticket purchasers. No state or taxpayer money will be used. Construction costs, read a university announcement, are primarily going to be covered by fundraising, sponsorships and money raised from the premium seating areas.

Harlan thanked several people for their work on bringing the project to reality. Former Utah athletics director Dr. Chris Hill was among those earning praise. Hill was credited with initially hiring two elite stadium expansion feasibility firms regarding the project.

Harlan said that Hill handed the football right over to him during the leadership transition. He provided Harlan with all the necessary prep and data to study the project after retiring. Stadium expansion, Harlan continued, has been a few years in the making and the hired consultants provided verifiable data that showed overwhelming community support for the alterations. Designs and cost assessments followed. The $80 million estimate will require $35 million be raised in private philanthropy. Future revenue from premium seating will also help cover the costs. Approval by the board to secure non-state revenue bonds will be funded by athletic-related revenues.

“It’s great. I’m so happy for Mark and the athletic staff, and the university, the fans, Kyle, our players” Hill said. “It’s really going to be great. I’m just happy for everybody that it’s moving along and it’s going to be a reality after all this time. But they’ve done a lot of work on it. We’ve all worked hard on it and I know Mark has.”

Hill added that it’s the right size and “a wonderful approach to what the needs are.” He likes where they’re headed and that it is data driven.

“You’ve got to be careful in college athletics right now because this is the project for the University of Utah athletics for a long, long time.”

Utah is currently the only football team in the Pac-12 averaging above capacity attendance, drawing 46,395 per game to the 45,807-seat stadium. Rice-Eccles is currently the 10th largest venue in the conference. The proposed expansion will lead to a jump to eighth — ahead of Colorado (50,183), Stanford (50,424), Oregon State (43,363) and Washington State (32,952), but behind USC (93,607), UCLA (92,542), Washington (70,083), California (62,467), Arizona State (57,078), Arizona (55,675) and Oregon (54,000).

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Utah coach Kyle Whittingham also thanked those involved for “getting the ball rolling” on the renovations and making it a reality.

“It’s huge for our program. Obviously, the football program is very excited about this project. It’s going to help us on a lot of different levels. Recruiting, that’s the name of the game. It’s going to be a great selling point for our recruits to come in and see the finishing touches, I guess you could say, on this stadium.

“It’s going to make an already outstanding game-day experience for the fans that much better,” he added.