Cal’s Ten-Year Journey Ends Where it Started

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(from Sports Business Journal, September 24, 2012) The renovations to Memorial Stadium, home to the University of California football team, were finally completed after a 10-year process.  The stadium hadn’t undergone any major renovations since its conception in 1923, and was in desperate need of some changes.  The first issue at hand was the decision to either make renovations to the 89 year-old stadium, which sat on the Hayward Fault, or to build a stadium in a new, safer location.  Yet another issue stemmed from the Memorial Stadium location, which is on the National Register of Historic Places; many believed that any major renovations would ruin the building.

A group of preservationists complicated matters even more when it came time to start construction on phase one of the project.  The preservationist group sat in trees to protest the removal of an oak grove, which stood next to the stadium, the clearing of this grove was to make space for the Simpson Center for Student-Athlete High Performance.  These protesters delayed the project by almost two years.  Bob Milano Jr., Cal’s Assistant Athletic Director of Capital Planning and Management, said “the shortest piece [of the renovation] was the 21-month construction.”

However, once the $321 million construction on the stadium finally began, many improvements to this historic stadium were made.  The seismic safety issues posed by the Hayward Fault were addressed, and major upgrades to the stadium’s concourse and concession stands were made.  The field was lowered by an average of four feet so as the first rows in the stadium could see the game. Prior to this renovation, the view from these rows was blocked by the players standing on the sideline. For the players on the field it “feels more big time, like you’re on stage, because you’re not at the same level as the fans,” said Joe Diesko, HNTB’s Project Architect.  Wheelchair accessibility was also another issue addressed in these renovations; before, being in a wheelchair made coming to the games very difficult, which dissuaded many supporters from attending.  Three new clubs, stacked on top of each other, were built on the west side of the stadium.  The stadium’s west wall was also opened up to provide views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.  After all the renovations were made to Memorial Stadium, Diesko said, “People can’t believe they are in the same place.”