Stadium improvements remain in planning stages

10-23-08 Football Stadium
Danny Lujan (left), 11, and Devin Plagge, 9, both Cowboys fans from Albuquerque, N.M., watch the crowds line up from a high perch in a tree on Super Bowl Sunday in January 1996 outside Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. (John Rhodes/DALLAS MORNING NEWS)
Published On:
Thursday, October 23, 2008
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Sun Devil Stadium celebrated its 50th birthday earlier this month, and now some ASU officials think it’s time to give it a facelift.

Last spring, the athletic department conducted a study of all its facilities and discovered that the facility needed “major renovations,” said Steve Miller, ASU deputy vice president for public affairs.

“The stadium, through years of deferred maintenance, is structurally, functionally and aesthetically deficient by today’s standards,” Miller said via e-mail.

ASU is now aiming to get the legislative permission to allow the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors to create a special stadium tax district that could serve as the financial vehicle to finalize and implement a renovation plan.

If the new district is formed, ASU would then enter into an agreement for district-managed funding to pay for the improvements.

“The idea is not to create a new financial burden for the state and not to impact the University’s ability to pay for current and future academic needs,” Miller said.

The fee collection would take place in lieu of a property tax, Miller said.

Renovations that could cost as much as $170 million would include structural maintenance and improvements in plumbing, electrical systems, bathrooms, concession stands, kitchens and seating, according to The Arizona Republic. Miller said that about 40 percent of that figure would go toward structural maintenance.

“[The stadium] will also continue to provide an economic benefit to Tempe and the entire East Valley,” Miller said.

He added that no renovation plans can be finalized until the creation of the stadium district and that work on the stadium would not begin in the near future.

“We are several years away from any major renovation project,” he said.

ASU football played its first game at Sun Devil Stadium in 1958 under first-year coach Frank Kush.

Since then, the venue has been the home of many classic college and professional football games, as well as concerts and other events.

“There is not a bad seat in that stadium to view a football game, whether you’re in the end zone or you’re up high in the bleachers,” said Kush, who coached the Sun Devils to a 176-54-1 record in his 22 seasons at the helm and is now in the College Football Hall of Fame. “It’s one of the premier stadiums in the country.”

The stadium originally held just 30,000 fans in the lower bowl and had an open south end zone. The first rows of seats were level with the field, and there were no locker rooms.

However, Kush said the new venue was a definite upgrade from Goodwin Field, where the Sun Devils had previously been playing.

“When I first came to Arizona, I was looking for a big stadium,” Kush said. “I found Goodwin Stadium and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself involved in?’ Our high school field was almost that big.”

When ASU decided to create its own bowl and played in the inaugural Fiesta Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium in 1971, that helped bring Sun Devil football, then a member of the Western Athletic Conference, to the forefront of the college football world.

“Our players didn’t really receive the recognition [they deserved] until we got involved with the bowl games,” Kush said. “Starting with the Peach Bowl [in 1970], and then the first Fiesta Bowl game, then [other people around college football] said, ‘Ah, who’s Arizona State?’ I saw the growth, and it was just remarkable to me from the standpoint of development and progress.”

ASU won four of the first five Fiesta Bowls over major conference foes Florida State, Missouri, Pittsburgh and Nebraska. Those games helped establish ASU as one of the top programs during the 1970s and prompted its move to what is now the Pac-10 Conference.

The Fiesta Bowl also became extremely popular with Tempe residents and in a way gave the city its claim to fame.

“[The Fiesta Bowl] was really meaningful, not only to the community, but the university as well,” Kush said. “The community really got into it. That was their apple in the sky.”

Sun Devil Stadium was the backdrop for the Fiesta Bowl for 35 years. The Fiesta Bowl was officially recognized as one of the most prestigious college football postseason games when it was asked to join the Bowl Championship Series.

The stadium hosted two BCS Championship Games, including the first-ever BCS title game between Tennessee and FSU in 1999 and the 2003 double-overtime thriller between Ohio State and Miami.

When the Fiesta Bowl moved to University of Phoenix Stadium in 2007, the Insight Bowl, which had previously been played at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, was brought to Sun Devil Stadium.

Sun Devil Stadium expanded in 1976 and 1977, bumping the seating capacity to 70,491 in two years with the addition of the upper deck.

The stadium expanded one more time in 1988, adding 1,700 seats and the Nadine and Ed Carson Student Athlete Center to the south end zone.

The field of Sun Devil Stadium was named in honor of Kush during ASU’s upset of No. 1 Nebraska in 1996.

Reach the reporter at gina.mizell@asu.edu.