Why the University of Utah football team is asking for a new multimillion-dollar indoor facility

New facility would come at $61.8 million cost, but that would come from donations and non-state university funds

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Game start begins in the PAC-12 football game between the University of Utah and Weber State at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

The University of Utah’s plan to build a new indoor practice facility for the football team is moving forward.

The school’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted on Tuesday afternoon to “move forward to obtain bonding from the legislature” for the proposed indoor football practice facility, which comes with a preliminary price tag of $61.8 million.

The legislature approving the bonding now represents the last significant hurdle towards gaining a full green light for the project to begin. A host of logistical issues would need to be dealt with once the project is fully approved, but assuming no hiccups, construction of the new facility is tentatively scheduled for July 2023, with construction to be completed in fall 2024.

The proposed facility would be built on Guardsman Way, south of the existing Eccles Field House. The original facility was built in 2004 at a cost of $6 million. All of that $6 million came from private donors, with $2 million of it coming from Spence Eccles, an All-American skier at the University of Utah in the 1950s. The Eccles family name currently resides on five Utah athletics facilities, including 24-year-old Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“As it relates to football, we are taking a deep, hard look at the practice facility for football,” Utah athletic director Mark Harlan told The Salt Lake Tribune in mid-December, weeks before the Utes played in their first Rose Bowl. “The Eccles Football Center is great. We know it’s one of the best in the West, and we want to make sure it stays in that same category. The Eccles Indoor Facility, we’re going to take a hard look at that, it’s been there for a long time. And the outdoor practice fields, how much more can we do, how creative can we be to have the best practice field. We’ll be looking hard at that, and we’ve been looking hard at that even before all of this.”

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

At least three other capitol athletics projects have been completed under Harlan’s watch, including an $80 million upgrade to the Rice-Eccles south end zone, which was completed in time for the 2021 season.

Renderings of the proposed structure, in addition to proposed site plans, space needs, and budget estimates were released Tuesday morning ahead of the board meeting.

Utah officials say the current facility has myriad issues, including scheduling conflicts due to multiple users; ceilings that are too low for kicking and punting; sidelines that are not adequately sized for safe run-off; and only one endzone.

The athletic department is requesting approval to bond up to the initial estimate of $61.8 million, while noting that bonds will be repaid with donations and non-state university funds. The proposal also makes clear that it will not request state operations and maintenance funds.

Where exactly the funding will come for this project is currently unclear, but a competition timeline of fall 2024 is in place.

The athletic department is not expected to have a comment at the conclusion of the meeting.