When Bryant-Denny Stadium’s south end zone expansion debuted in August 2010, the University of Alabama athletics department delivered the final piece of more than a showplace.
With seating for nearly 102, 000 and a slate of amenities that redefines the fan experience, Bryant-Denny’s comprehensive facelift not only fulfilled Athletic Director Mal Moore’s vision for restoring the program to national prominence, but also created a physical gateway to Crimson Tide football.
“Mal Moore always felt like Bryant-Denny never had a front door, and until the north end zone was completed, the name was nowhere on the stadium, ” says Thad Turnipseed, the university’s director of athletic facilities.
With the south end zone complete, however, the on-campus stadium is now visible miles from its majestic site that buzzes year-round as a campus hub with a ground-level marketplace, Donor Hall of Fame and university admission offices, not to mention the general enthusiasm that accompanies two national championships in the past three seasons.
“This is where we’re supposed to be, ” Turnipseed says.
The $65.6 million south end zone expansion secured Bryant-Denny’s place as the fourth-largest on-campus college football stadium in the nation and the second-largest in the Southeastern Conference. It includes a 1, 700-seat South Zone club, an 8, 500-seat upper deck and 36 luxury skyboxes, bringing the stadium’s total to 159. The overhaul also included upgrades to the stadium’s entire audio-visual network and the addition of two gigantic video boards.
The project also added the Stadium Club, a 16, 500-square-foot facility that affords select fans a unique indoor tailgating experience, flanked by numerous flat-screen TVs, a “pouring” room for patrons who wish to bring their own spirits and a three-story view of Bryant Drive that now houses an 11, 000-square-foot outdoor marketplace with multiple shops and 10 flat-screen televisions affixed to columns.
Of course, some of the biggest draws for alumni and supporters have been the 34 additional skyboxes and two party suites the south end zone expansion created, Turnipseed says, and representatives from “one of the biggest national TV networks” called Bryant-Denny “the most impressive facility in all of college football” following a walk through nine months ago.
Built in 1929, the facility was originally christened the George Hutcheson Denny Stadium to honor the university’s 15th president, but the Alabama Legislature bestowed the current moniker in 1975 to honor Coach Paul William “Bear” Bryant, who at that time had led the football program to six national titles.
Turnipseed concedes the athletic department had no intentions of pursuing the south end zone expansion so quickly after completion of the almost mirror-image north end zone, but the hiring of head football coach Nick Saban fueled an excitement unparalleled even in Alabama’s storied history.
“When you ask donors if they’d be comfortable committing half a million dollars to a skybox, and they say, ‘Absolutely, ’ it speaks volumes to the Alabama tradition and the passion Alabama fans have, ” he says, adding, “It became financially doable, the demand was there, and there was absolutely no reason to wait.”
Of course, even with the expansion complete, demand for season tickets remains high, with a waiting list of about 20, 000, he says.
Turnipseed says the department also spent about $2 million in 2010 waterproofing the original stadium bowl—designed originally as an homage to the historic Rose Bowl in California, about $4.5 million overhauling the sound system, about $8 million for the jumbo video boards and “six-plus” figures renovating bathrooms and the like.
“We’re very proud of what’s been achieved, and I’m personally excited to be part of seeing Bryant-Denny becoming what it deserves to be, ” he says.
Of course, the project would never have been possible without the team responsible for turning vision into reality, Turnipseed says, giving specific nods to Davis Architects, general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie and construction manager Hoar Construction, all of Birmingham.
Stephen Franklin, Brasfield’s vice president and manager of the firm’s facilities division, says the 230, 000-square-foot expansion required the pouring of 23, 000 cubic yards of concrete—or enough to pave a four-foot sidewalk from downtown Birmingham to Montgomery—and more than 2, 100 tons of reinforced steel.
The Stadium Club is a 16, 500-square-foot facility that provides an indoor tailgating experience, with flatscreen TVs, a “pouring” room and a three-story view of Bryant Drive.
“University campus projects are unique, and they’re something you need past experience with and lessons learned to effectively execute, ” he says. “Once a university sets an academic calendar, those dates are set in stone and drive construction across campus. Also, most larger campuses constantly have construction ongoing, so you’re forced to deal with a lot of existing conditions that may have changed since infrastructure was originally installed, so drawings from 1970 might say one thing, but likely what you’re dealing with is much different, and if you don’t record those as as-built conditions, you’re in for some challenges. It’s always good to discover those early.”
And although its sheer size made the project challenging, Franklin says that the priority was ensuring the safety of crew members, as well as students, staff and an endless stream of visitors.
Because the physical site was tightly constrained—bordered on three sides by existing structures and less than 10 feet from Bryant Drive—Franklin says deliveries had to be kept on time to prevent materials bottlenecks. Moreover, the bulk of the project had to be completed during the championship 2009 season.
“We had to make sure all our fencing and safety measures remained in place, but we also had to allow access to the stadium through our project site, which is just not typical, ” he says, noting the site typically shut down on Thursdays before game day weekends to prepare for the onslaught
“It was a lot of fun and a great challenge, and we’re proud to say we finished on time and the university got a hearty project, ” Franklin says.
“What they’ve done, culminating with the south end zone, is just incredible, and the atmosphere it’s created is amazing. Obviously, there was an intense desire to exceed expectations because this is one of the hottest programs in the country, and what they’ve created is a fan’s paradise.”
Barry Komisar, president and owner of Vision Security Technologies, calls the completed stadium a “spectacular feat of quality workmanship, ” but agrees executing high-profile, high-traffic projects is no picnic. It did, however, allow him to showcase some state-of-the-art technology.
“We sell, design, install, service and maintain access-control and video surveillance systems, and the Bryant-Denny
project allowed us to install high-definition, megapixel cameras that allow you to cover a much bigger area with fewer cameras because of the higher resolution, ” Komisar says.
Hoar principal Mike Lanier says the project is significant not just for the thriving hub it’s formed on campus or the dominating presence it’s created for visiting teams, but because it also perpetuates Alabama’s larger-than-life tradition.
“It’s really tragic the way the (April 27, 2010) tornadoes leveled 15th Street and McFarland, but at the same time it’s kind of exhilarating to come over the railroad tracks and see this beautiful elevation—untouched—instead of the back of a scoreboard. It’s a sight to behold, ” he says.
The biggest challenge, he says, was keeping the project churning forward as it “started taking on a life of its own” and attracting scores of tours by media, alumni and donors week after week.
“So many people were coming through the facility that our guys took responsibility for making sure they got around safely. We didn’t want Brasfield & Gorrie to lose focus on the construction side, and it’s always a little dicey when (the masses) are brought into the heart of a massive construction project, but it all went off without a hitch, ” Lanier says.
Kelli Dugan is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Mobile.
By Kelli M. Dugan