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April 17, 2012

Swamp receiving a summertime makeover


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In many cases structures that are 82 years old could use a face lift. Throughout the spring and summer Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is getting just what the doctor ordered.

After years of wear-and-tear and increased traffic, The Swamp, built in 1930, is currently undergoing massive restorations in what is being called The Stadium West Concourse Renovation. The project's goal is to increase fan amenities from Gate 1 to Gate 4 (at both the lower and upper levels), including wider concession stands and concourses, two new first aid stations and renovated restrooms.

The project launched the Monday following UF's home defeat to Florida State (Nov 26), as demolition began immediately. The renovation will be completed on August 1, exactly one month before the home opener against Bowling Green.

According to Chip Howard, senior associate athletics director, internal affairs, the project will cost $5.4 million and is being funded by the University Athletic Association.

Howard said the UAA took out a $15 million bond last fall, and the remaining funds will be used for other athletic facility upgrades on campus.

The last major improvement on The Swamp was the $28 million James W. Bill Heavener Football Complex expansion, completed in the summer of 2008. The project included the renowned strength and conditioning room, a museum and new football offices.

[Related: New Football Complex Photo Gallery]

The current renovation targets the stadium's most populated concourses, a site that Howard said traffics over 1.2 million people every year from flocks of fans at Gator games to locals exercising to students going to class.

"[The stadium] really is a living, breathing building," he said.

Howard said the University solicited outside consultation, and a study was conducted to determine just how many people use the stadium on a daily basis.

Although Howard acknowledged the results weren't shocking since Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is unique and is open to the public everyday, it did confirm the UAA's notion that The Swamp needed an upgrade.

"When we looked at the West Side with everything going on, it really wasn't that nice. We needed some improvements," he said.

"We're on that concourse at halftime, and I know how crowded it gets. [The West Concourse] was difficult for folks to get around."

Howard credited Florida's Athletic Director Jeremy Foley for initiating the job, saying, "[He] put the funding together to make this happen and our fans are really going to enjoy it when it's done."

The renovation, which in addition to the mentioned amenities includes new ventilation, new graphics and improved lighting, was inspired from multiple previous projects, but most notably, Tennessee's Neyland Stadium.

Said Howard, "We're always looking when we go on the road, but Tennessee was one stadium that stood out that had a stadium about the same age as ours and did a renovation on their West Side."

The Swamp's renovation is being piloted by a partnership: RDG Sports, an architectural firm, and CPPI (Charles Perry Partners, Inc.), a local construction firm.
Currently, the project is on schedule and "the building back" is taking place now.

Howard said the University is pleased with its progress and excited about the finished product.

Although the facelift further enhances The Swamp's reputation, Howard said it is for others to decide how UF's stadium compares to others.

"All we do is worry about our fans. We didn't do it because someone else did it, but we did it because our fans and our stadium needed it."

An outline of the various construction phases along with renderings and other information on the renovations to the West Concourse can be found on the project page


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