Nippert Stadium renovations underway, west concourse closed to foot traffic

Renovations to one of America’s oldest collegiate stadiums started in early December. Construction, ranging from $80 to $85 million, is expected to be completed in 2015.

University of Cincinnati students will have to find a new place to walk, play and practice as the university begins its renovation of Nippert Stadium.

“I don’t think it’s always going to be this easy,” said Mary Beth McGrew, associate vice president of finance, planning and design. “This is a rapid fire project, but so far so good.”

The entire structure was decommissioned Dec. 6, after the last Bearcats home game, and the stadium will stay under construction until its projected end in August 2015, said Dale Beeler, director of project management.

Currently, an eight-foot high, chain link fence surrounds the construction site, restricting through-traffic. Maps and way-finding markers are in place to help pedestrians navigate around the construction.

But with construction starting at the onset of the winter break, it’s unknown how large of an impact the project could have on campus life.

“I’m concerned that with so many students and student organizations already vying for field space, the construction on Nippert Stadium could affect the students negatively,” said Natalie Brdar, College of Arts & Sciences student and UC band member.

The university acknowledges that the project could cause some problems for students and faculty. Deborah Merchant, vice president of student affairs, is expected to host open discussions with the UC community on the renovations in February, McGrew said.

Officials said the renovations are necessary for UC to stay competitive with other major college football programs.

The estimated $80 to $85 million project would improve the experience by eliminating congestion and providing more concessions and convenience, Beeler said.

The western concourse is slated to have five different levels, including an expanded concourse and concessions for fans on the base level. Also, the construction would add a club lounge and private bar along with three top tier levels containing an outdoor mezzanine, private suites, reception and conference space, the president’s suite and a press box, said Bob Marton, project manager.

Consequently, the western concourse of the stadium, or Bearcat Way, will be closed to foot traffic until 2015, Marton said. Public safety officers and deputy sheriffs have been assigned to monitor the area by the main gate next to TUC during daytime hours, when student traffic is the heaviest.

The northern walkway between the stadium and the Campus Recreation Center, as well as the bridge leading toward the Lindner Center and Fifth Third Arena will be open for the duration of the construction process.

Renovations on the east side are expected to start in the summer of 2014 — a portion of the project that includes adding 88 more seats and widening the concourse to prevent bottlenecking, Marton said.

Stair runners will be allowed to utilize the east side of the stadium for exercise in the project’s beginning stages, but will be blocked off once construction starts in the summer.

Construction crews also will be adding a bridge connecting Nippert to the third level of the Tangeman University Center. To build the bridge, the exterior glass wall by the third-floor entrance to the UC Bookstore will be opened up causing some merchandise maneuvering and traffic re-routing, but no actual bookstore closure, Marton said.

The field itself will be completely covered with a tarp to shield it from debris and it will be unavailable to students for the duration of the project.

Sheakley Lawn and Gettler Stadium will still be open to student activity, but the university may have to rent additional field space for intramurals, student programming and practices, Beeler said.

The renovations won’t affect nearby parking garages, basketball games or spring graduation ceremonies.

The profits from the new stadium, along with private fundraising through the athletic department, will help the project pay for itself, said Brendan Fouracre, senior associate athletics director.

The hope is that the improvements to the game-day experience —including moving concessions along the outside perimeter of the stadium, decreasing pedestrian overcrowding inside along the concourse, increasing food vending options and eliminating the need for portable restrooms — will outweigh any inconveniences posed by the project.

“After all of this, our hope is that Nippert Stadium will come back bigger and better,” Marton said.