ARLINGTON, Texas — It was exactly the reaction they were looking for Thursday evening.
With more than 15,000 purple-clad fans packed into Rangers Ballpark for the pre-Cotton Bowl pep rally, the Kansas State athletic department unveiled its plans for an extensive renovation to the west side of Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Fans oohed and aahed at first sight of the artist renderings when they were displayed on the large video board in right field, as an image of the current press box morphed into an expected 250,000 square-foot behemoth facility.
“It’s neat to today to watch the reaction of the Wildcat fans when the video was up there and unveiling what I think is going to be one of the most exciting projects that we’ve done in Kansas State University history,” K-State president Kirk Schulz said.
The renovation projects to cost about $75 million —making it the single biggest athletic facility upgrade in the school’s history — and completely paid for by individual donors. The improvements — which already has one-third of its funding — is to begin construction before the 2012 season and have the majority of it finished by the start of the 2013 season.
K-State’s plan for the West Stadium Center includes replacing the existing press box and adding more concessions, restrooms, and improving the luxury seating, while also expanding the ticket office and adding a Hall of Honor on the new concourse.
Thursday’s pep rally provided K-State with the perfect backdrop to showoff its ambitious plan, a campaign that started long before the Wildcats were selected to play in the Cotton Bowl tonight against Arkansas at Cowboys Stadium.
“There’s no question, with the success we’ve had this year, that there’s some excitement out there by the Kansas State fan base,” Schulz said. “We’ve been talking about this project with a certain, select set of folks for about 18 months before we knew we’d be playing in the Cotton Bowl.
“This just gave us a tremendous opportunity with a huge number of fans out there feeling good about Kansas State University to launch it.”
Athletic director John Currie pointed to the last major series of upgrades, the construction of the current press box and Bramlage Coliseum — both of which occurred prior to the boom of Wildcat football — and said it’s time to take that next step forward by harnessing K-State’s recent climb back to relevance on the field.
“The four or five-year period of significant investment preceded an incredible run by K-State’s football program under Coach Snyder’s leadership,” he said. “So now, here we are 20 years later and in some respects we look pretty good, but in some respects we have a lot more work to do.”
K-State is currently constructing the new basketball training facility on the east side of Bramlage Coliseum. It’s that project — which is also completely funded by individual donors — that Currie said prompted the move forward in making the west side renovation a reality.
“Certainly the success we had initially in attacking the basketball facility project — which is now well underway and will be completed this spring — helped give us the confidence to move forward,” he said.
It’s Schulz’s hope that the new west side becomes, in some ways, the front door to the university.
“Think of the last time you drove on any particular campus or went into any particular facility, the first impressions you have, what the facility looks like, it shapes your impression of everything that follows after that,” he said.
“What we want here is a facility that’s going to be first-rate in the country and represent Kansas State Wildcats athletics well and will help the university move forward with the ‘wow’ factor when people first come onto campus.”
If the West Stadium Center looks familiar, as if you’ve seen it before, it’s probably because you have. The renovation, designed by the firm AE Com and Heery Design, looks very similar to the press box and suites at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, among others.
“We’ve tried to take the best elements of 25 or 30 or 40 stadiums that we’ve visited and seen, and specifically in the last two years,” Currie said. “We’ve flown around to see some places and then the places we go to play ball.”
K-State’s desire to turn what Schulz said was once a “fantasy project” into reality comes on the heels of major changes to the Big 12 Conference the last two years. In each of the last two years, K-State’s future in a major conference was in doubt as the Big 12 itself appeared to be on and off life support at various times.
“What’s happened in the last couple years, in our conference, certainly underscores the fact that we need to continue to do invest and don’t take for granted our position,” Currie said.