Husky stadium ready for facelift after one final game

SEATTLE (AP) - After more than nine decades of hosting Husky football, NFL games, presidential speeches and commencement addresses, Husky Stadium is shutting down - for a while anyway.

The waterfront stadium with a setting nearly impossible to match in all of college football will host its final game, a showdown between Washington and No. 6 Oregon, on Saturday before it's closed for a $250 million renovation.

In less than two years, it will become a football-only gem, the latest entry into the facility arms race that has swept college football.

"The stadium means so much to this football program, but I can't even imagine in 18 months from now, when the new Husky Stadium is up, how much more it's really going to mean to this program and university," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "I'm excited for the sledge hammer to come, for the process to start. Eighteen months can't come fast enough."

The stadium is one of two spots in the country where a flotilla of yachts and pleasure boats can create a "boatgating" experience, but only here does Mount Rainier stand prominent in the distance with bald eagles swooping overhead.

The cantilever roofs that cover the north and south grandstands have become famous for their unique look and the reverberating effect that deflects sound from below back down onto the field. During a 1992 game against Nebraska, decibel meters recorded the noise at 130 decibels - the equivalent of standing 100 feet away from an accelerating jet.

At its high point in the late 1980s and early 1990s - when Washington shared the 1991 national title with Miami - playing at Husky Stadium was as daunting as anywhere in the country.

"I just saw purple," USC quarterback Todd Marinovich said in 1990 after the Trojans were routed 31-0 by Washington. "No numbers. Just purple."

But age hasn't been kind to the stadium. The mortar and rock that created the stately lower bowl on the shore of Lake Washington - the original construction dates to 1920 - is in a state of decay. Temporary fixes have kept the facility usable for the last decade, but there is only so much a fresh coat of paint and some spackle can hide.

Former coach Don James, who was on the committee that came up with options for fixing the stadium, estimated that more than $100,000 was spent per year on stadium upkeep while trying to keep it operational.

"The stadium needed to be rebuilt," he said.

Bathrooms are scarce. Concessions are sparse. And luxury boxes are non-existent.

Washington now lags behind Oregon and other schools on the West Coast when it comes to offering the amenities recruits desire.

"It's going to help recruiting and anything that helps recruiting I'm for," said Bob Schloredt, who was a two-time Rose Bowl MVP as Washington's quarterback in 1960 and 1961. "I'm tired of watching us not be in the class at the top of the thing and fighting for the championship every year."

The Husky Stadium renovation, particularly how to pay for the project, was debated for much of the previous decade at a time when Washington's program was at its lowest point in history.

The athletic department even went to the state legislature trying to tap money from an existing tax on hotels and rental cars to help pay for the renovation. Plans to try to get the state's authorization for use of King County tax revenues to pay for half of a $300 million remodel were scrapped in the spring of 2010.

Instead, the school pursued private donations to raise a portion of the remodel costs and put out calls for bidders to bring in the most cost-efficient and grand remodel possible.

The remodel will include a football operations center on the west end of the stadium, and seats that have been moved forward to the edge of the action. The entire lower bowl will be gutted and upgraded, while the upper deck on the south side will be rebuilt with luxury seating.

The noise-trapping cantilever roofs will remain, as will the entire upper deck on the north side of the stadium and the original tunnel the home team walks down for every game.

Schloredt remembers when the tunnel was barely lit and walking into the light of the stadium was like stepping onto a stage.

"It was like coming out of dungeon and coming out into the daylight," he said. "It was a magnificent experience."

This will be the first major change to the stadium since 1987 when the upper deck was completed on the north side, bringing in glorious views of Lake Washington and Mount Rainier and adding nearly 15,000 more seats. Even that construction wasn't without its hiccups as the framing for the new addition collapsed during the project, but that's the only part of the current stadium that will remain.

While the school has raised part of the project cost through private donations, most of money for paying off the bonds on the construction will come through premium seating and naming rights.

Washington will cut off any use of the stadium beginning Monday. The Apple Cup rivalry game with Washington State and the entire 2012 home schedule will be played across town at the home of the Seattle Seahawks.

If all goes to plan, the Huskies will christen their new dog house Sept. 7, 2013, against Boise State. It'll be a victory for the school after some suggested just moving to CenturyLink Field on a permanent basis.

But it's impossible to give up real estate like this.

"The stadium is going to be there and the lake is going to be there and that's the important part," James said.


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