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Silas Walker, Deseret News
Bob Garff speaks at a press conference to announce a $17.5 million donation from the Garff family that will go toward expansion and renovations to Rice-Eccles Stadium prior to the annual Red-White Game on Saturday, April 13, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — There are donations and then there are donations.

On Saturday, the University of Utah announced a $17.5 million pledge from the Ken Garff family for the expansion and renovation of Rice-Eccles Stadium. It’s the largest donation in the history of Utah athletics and the lead gift in the $80 million project.

University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins said the record-setting contribution will help fund construction of the Ken Garff Performance Zone in the south end zone. She also announced that donors have committed $33 million of the $35 million sought in philanthropic gifts for the stadium renovation. Watkins explained that the remaining $45 million will be raised through various revenue sources.

"We are incredibly grateful for the continuing generosity of the Garff family," Watkins said in the announcement. "This extraordinary gift will dramatically improve the fan experience at Rice-Eccles Stadium during football games and many other events. My sincere thank you Robert and Kathi Garff, John and Amy Garff, and Matt and Nicole Garff for making this gift possible.”

Mark Harlan, Utah’s director of athletics, also attended a press conference prior to the Red-White Game at the stadium.

“The spring football game is always a really exciting day launching into the next season,” he said. “But what an incredible day to celebrate this incredible Garff family. Thank you guys.”

Harlan noted that the “transformational gift” will allow for a new and enhanced experience for the faithful fan base as well as improving what he called the best home-field advantage “in the Pac-12 and beyond.” He also expressed optimism that the International Olympic Committee will take note of what’s taking place at the venue. The donation will also benefit Utah’s student-athletes in the form of new revenue derived upon debt-service completion.

"The success of our student-athletes and our department relies on the extraordinary generosity of our supporters and the Garff family has been instrumental in elevating Utah Athletics to unimaginable heights," Harlan said in a released statement.

Robert Garff, chairman of Ken Garff Automotive, noted that the University of Utah is the alma mater for several generations of the family. “We bleed red and love the university,” he said.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the gift will “benefit generations of student-athletes and fans.”

Whittingham added “that updating the south end zone is the last piece in making Rice-Eccles Stadium truly one of the best college football environments in the country.”

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The planned renovations include connecting the concourses to create a stadium bowl. Capacity will increase from 45,807 to 51,444 seats. Upgrades include the addition of premium fan seating as well as new locker rooms and meeting space — for coaches, officials, trainers, equipment media operations and the band — plus a kitchen, recruiting lounge and an outdoor patio.

Construction is scheduled to start following the final home game in 2020. The project is scheduled for completion prior to the 2021 season.