It may not qualify as a skyscraper, but it’s the tallest structure in Stephenville.
The renovation and expansion of Tarleton State University’s football stadium will be on display Tuesday, Aug. 20, for the grand opening of the new Lonn Reisman Athletic Center at Memorial Stadium.
The changes and upgrades are impressive, starting with the expansion of the seating capacity from 7,000 to 10,000, and featuring multiple luxury suites and a large press area contained in the new four-story structure on the west side.
That change resulted in what was formerly the visitor’s side to become the home side entrance, with 4,800 seats — including 1,326 new reserved seats with chair backs (the color purple, of course).
The overall cost adds up to a whopping $26 million, which includes 910 tons of structural steel, 14,240 feet of fiber and 42,000 feet of data lines (the equivalent of 29 Empire State Buildings). The stadium’s track around the outside the football field got a new surface in the deal, which accounted for $500,000 of the total.
Because the improvements have been widespread and major, the terms renovation or makeover no longer apply, according to TSU Assistant Athletic Director Casey Hogan.
Reisman, TSU’s athletic director and former men’s head basketball coach, previously was quoted as saying that the stadium has been “transformed.”
“It is, in our minds at least, a new stadium,” said Hogan, who had noted that the original Memorial Stadium was completed in 1977. “It’s beautiful.”
“People have been looking forward to this for more than 30 years,” Reisman stated in November. “Now it is a reality. I couldn’t be happier.”
Memorial Stadium is also the site for all of the home games for the Stephenville High School varsity Yellow Jackets. The SISD partnered with TSU to dedicate a locker room for the Yellow Jackets.
The public is invited to attend the grand opening, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. on the new main concourse on the west (Harbin Street) side. There will be a 30-minute ceremony, featuring representatives from various community groups and area towns on the field.
Both TSU President F. Dominic Dottavio, who will be stepping down from his position at the end of August, and Reisman will participate in the grand opening ceremony along with Texas State Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville).
A guided tour of the new facilities will follow from 7-8 p.m.
“It’s a community event, not just a Tarleton event,” Hogan said. “I think everyone will be blown away with not only how nice the facility is — it was built the right way — but (also) it’s functional.”
The high-rise structure features five 12-person luxury suites, plus two eight-person suites on the fourth floor, in addition to the President’s Suite. The home side will also include two TSU spirit shops and two concession stands.
A spacious, open concourse area will provide more than ample space to accommodate handicapped attendees, who will utilize the elevator.
Coaches and radio/TV personnel connected with the visiting teams will be in the old press box on the east side.
A 104-seat club level suite will feature a drink station and buffet area for food such as hot dogs, hamburgers and snacks. On days when there is no football game, groups from the community can rent the club level suite.
Other improvements include a $1.2 million high-definition video board on the south end zone side. It’s 70 feet wide and 22 feet tall.
The four overhead light banks now have far greater power for night games. The new lights are rated as having almost double the illumination power of the old lights.
While the main parking area on Harbin Street remains the same, the area designed for tailgating parties — aka Texan Alley — is being moved from the north side to the south side of the stadium. It will have up to 400 parking spots once it is complete, Hogan said, along with hookups to accommodate RVs.
READY FOR THE FUTURE
Long-range discussion about the possibility of TSU moving up from NCAA Division II to join the NCAA Division now won’t have any concerns about the size or quality of Memorial Stadium.
“The driver (for the project) was to get us a more modern stadium … something the community could be proud of,” Hogan said. “This is really built to be a Division I stadium. It’s positioned us to where, if we want to be at that level we’ll have a top-notch facility. It’s safe to say that it’s a top-five facility at the Division II level.
“Regardless of whether we are Division I or Division II, we felt like we needed to have a new stadium that would enhance the game-day experience for the fans and the media. We had outgrown the old press box. There was only one suite in the old press box. Now we have eight suites.”
Another plus for the improvements is that the stadium should be able to draw even more high school playoff games, including larger schools searching for superior facilities.