Members of the Garff, Rice and Eccles families of longtime University of Utah donors joined school administrators Saturday afternoon for a ceremonial groundbreaking of the Ken Garff Performance Zone, the centerpiece of the Rice-Eccles Stadium expansion.
The facility for premium seating in the south end zone, part of the expansion to 51,444 seats, is scheduled to be ready for the 2021 football season.
Construction will begin in January, without affecting seating for the 2020 season, the school said. The 2002 Olympic Cauldron will be relocated from behind the scoreboard to the southwest corner of the stadium grounds.
Excavation, pouring of footings and erection of steel will begin in the spring-summer period. After the last home football game next November, the current end-zone structure will be demolished and construction will begin in earnest with a scheduled completion date in the summer of 2021.
In April, the Garff family made a lead gift of $17.5 million, covering half of the privately funded portion of the $80 million project. “This project has been the subject of conversation for many, many years,” university president Ruth V. Watkins said. “Now, it’s a reality.”
Utah has sold out 65 consecutive games in a 45,807-seat stadium. As other schools are reducing capacity of their stadiums, “We’re building,” Ute athletic director Mark Harlan said, “because that’s who the University of Utah is.”
Harlan joked that “duct tape” would keep the south end zone facilities intact for six more home games in 2020, before major upgrades are in place the following season. The Ken Garff Performance Zone will include suite, loge box, ledge, club, rooftop terrace and bench seating, plus field level and stadium club areas.
The sales process is underway, with Crimson Club members being contacted in order of donation levels. A preview center soon will open adjacent to the stadium ticket office to showcase the amenities.
Watkins said the stadium improvements will “raise the ceiling on the future of Utah athletics.”
Bob Garff, a son of automotive empire founder Ken Garff, said the facility will become “one of the main draws for the community,” available for various gatherings 300 days a year.