GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The crowded and convoluted corridors of the West Concourse at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium have been a point of contention for fans attending University of Florida home games in recent years.
They talked about the logjams on the way to their seats, excessively long waits at the concession stands and rest rooms, and, quite frankly, how some areas of the stadium just didn't look very nice.
If any of these complaints resonate, get ready for big and very pleasant surprise.
When the Gators open the stadium gates Saturday for a light practice and the team's annual Fan Day, the University Athletic Association will unveil $5.6 million worth of upgrades to the West Concourse, highlighted by major improvements in spacing, concessions, restrooms and graphics on both the first and second levels.
"We hope our fans are going to be very pleased, very impressed," said Chip Howard, senior associate athletics director for internal affairs. "We believe they're going to come away thinking everything's bigger, cleaner, nicer, better lit and much, much more fan-friendly."
A recent tour of the renovations showed nearly all elements, including the installations of metal panel ceilings, walls, paint, floors, lighting and cooking fixtures were nearly completed.
Charles Perry Partners, Inc. (CPPI), with design and build partner RDG Planning and Design, are set to complete the West Concourse Renovation project in time for UF's 2012 season opener against Bowling Green on September 1.
Most prominent among the upgrades:
• More than 40 additional points of sale. That means more cashier lines to take orders at concession stands, including the new Gridiron Grill, with its stainless steel ovens and hoods, which will offer pizza, hamburgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, roast beef sandwiches and french fries.
• Most of the concession stands have been moved back 7 feet. That may not sound like much, but the added space, coupled with more cashier options, will spread out the crowds and create more freely flowing concourse area. That will include the area known as the "Upper Landing," where the first level ramp meets the second level ramp -- in front of the stadium's busiest concession stand, no less -- and over the years has created a bottleneck nightmare. "It won't solve all the problems," Howard said. "But we'll have a significant improvement in the flow of traffic going north and south along the concourse."
• All concession stands will have a flat-screen television above so fans can watch the game, plus a second one positioned inside the stand so customers at the front of the lines can still see the game. • The restrooms have been gutted and completely redone, with new flooring, tile, ceiling, lights, sinks, faucets, fixtures, toilet partitions and a ventilation system that vents to the exterior of the stadium rather than the concourse. The new plumbing system will reduce water usage on game day and, in turn, alleviate complaints about the lack of water pressure
• A new sound system throughout the concourse (restrooms, included) with the Gator Radio Network broadcast piped in.
• New flooring and drainage, plus ceiling clouds and flashing that cover the conduit and piping that, according to Howard, "used to look like the engine room of the Titanic."
• Concrete walls and columns have been replaced by brick walls, for a more classic look. And those areas of gathered visible dirt inside some of the section entrances under the bleachers have been walled in.
• The old, yellowish lighting has been replaced with a whiter, brighter strip system that runs throughout the entire concourse.
• Some walls will be decorated with bold and colorful graphics packages depicting UF's championships, plus five of the greatest games ever played at the "Swamp." Improved way-finding signage will be throughout the stadium, with script updated in the slick Gator font, making for more uniform graphics throughout the stadium.
UF officials are excited about the new look and amenities and are confident their enthusiasm will be shared by the fans.
"I think people are going to come here for our first few games and hopefully just think this is the way things have always looked," Howard said. "And I think they're going to come and say it all looks really, really nice."
For perspective, below is what the West Concourse looked like a year ago.