As Rice-Eccles expansion project clears first legislative hurdle, Utes are adding a renovation fee to football season tickets and increasing Crimson Club donation requirements

Plans keep moving through the approval process, with construction scheduled to start in November 2020.

As the University of Utah’s plan to expand Rice-Eccles Stadium keeps moving through a lengthy approval process, the school is adding a $25 fee to 2019 season tickets to help fund the South end zone project.

In a letter asking for season-ticket renewals Friday, athletic director Mark Harlan announced a 5-percent increase in Crimson Club scholarship donations for season-ticket access to chair seats and premium bleacher seats, with a seven-game home schedule. For the first time, Utah also is requiring donations for the North end zone ($50) and bleacher seats in the corners ($25).

“Hopefully, our fans will understand why we're doing it,” said deputy athletic director Scott Kull. “We want to continue to be competitive nationally and in the Pac-12 and provide a great fan experience and student-athlete experience.”

Utah's 2019 home schedule includes Northern Illinois, Idaho State, Washington State, Arizona State, California, UCLA and Colorado.

A legislative committee this week recommended approval of bonding for the $80 million renovation to the South end zone, although the state won't provide funding. The $25 season-ticket fee, not previously announced, has always been part of the department's financing plan, Kull said.

In his letter, Harlan said, “The overall cost of a Utah Football season ticket will remain in the middle range among the Pac-12 schools. We continue to work to provide a world-class experience for our guests while keeping ticket prices at a reasonable level.”

The expansion plan and donation-level increases reflect the demand for Utah football, with the school listing sellouts (official capacity: 45,800) for 57 consecutive games. The 2019 team is expected to contend for a conference championship after winning the Pac-12 South title last season.

Harlan said his presentation was well received Thursday by the Infrastructure and General Government Committee and the school is hopeful of proceeding with approval of the Legislature by the March 14 end of the session.

The project is designed to expand the stadium's capacity to as much as 52,000 (the working number is 51,444) by rebuilding the south end zone structure. The increase would come from 1,000 bleacher seats in the corners, plus premium seating that includes terraces, loges, suites and club and rooftop seating, as designed by the Kansas City-based Populous architecture firm.

The process accelerated with Nov. 13 approval by the university’s board of trustees. Harlan unveiled the department’s plans the next day. Subsequent approval by the Board of Regents, the state Building Board and the Legislature was required, although state funding is not part of the financing.

Harlan is targeting $35 million in donations and athletic revenue is intended to cover the bond debt. In November, Harlan said he had received some signed commitments of donations and that projections called for the bond debt to be repaid within 14 years. Demand for the premium seating created “a very conservative path” of financing, he said.

Construction is scheduled to begin after the 2020 football season and be completed by August 2021. The project will close the bowl on the south end and create new locker rooms that Harlan has said will be “tastefully done, not over the top” in an era of excess in college athletics.