Utah football’s indoor practice facility will take longer, cost more than expected

Tentative plans last year called for construction on the football facility to begin this summer

(Utah athletics) University of Utah head baseball coach Gary Henderson watches a game from the dugout. The Utes currently use Smith's Ballpark as their home field, but the university is looking at the potential to build a stadium on campus.

Since Mark Harlan became the athletic director at the University of Utah in June 2018, at least three capital athletics projects have been completed.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Salt Lake Tribune recently, Harlan confirmed that the $4.6 million renovation to the 24-year-old Dumke Gymnastics Center will be complete this summer. Beyond that, there is more planning on two major capital projects in the works.

Where do things stand on the new indoor football facility?

The tentative plan when the indoor practice facility was first introduced to the Board of Trustees last February was for construction to begin in July 2023, with completion coming in fall 2024.

Again, that was tentative. At the time, the board unanimously voted to “move forward to obtain bonding from the legislature” for the facility, which had a preliminary price tag of $61.8 million. The legislature did approve that bonding last spring, which left Utah to fundraise for the bonding.

“I will be candid that building things, and the prices, have gone up, so we are chasing a bigger number than what we had last year,” Harlan told The Tribune. “We definitely have an obligation to raise a great amount of that bond money, so we’re not there yet, but it’s absolutely something we’re going to get done. The timeline is not completely set right now, but after the first of the year, it’s something we’re really going to refocus on.”

Based on that, when exactly a shovel will enter the ground is yet to be determined. For what it’s worth, there are stipulations in head football coach Kyle Whittingham’s latest contract that if various football facility improvement deadlines are not met, the school owes him additional money.

Per the contract, Whittingham is owed a one-time payment of $100,000 if construction on the new indoor facility does not start by July 1, or if Utah does not issue occupancy of the new indoor facility by Dec. 31, 2024.

A baseball stadium is in the works

Harlan has indicated a number of times in the past that diving into the feasibility of building a baseball stadium is on his to-do list, but things appear to have progressed beyond that.

“We are really making headway, I believe, on a baseball stadium and working with various different constituent groups to get our land, our site worked out,” Harlan said. “We have some incredible donors that are ready to step up for that.

“That’s going to be high on the list to try and get launched in ‘23. Launched, meaning trying to finalize our design, get our investors lined up and get final approval.”

Where exactly a baseball stadium would be built remains up for discussion as Harlan said there are a number of sites Utah is looking at.

One potential solution, which has been bandied about for years, back to when Chris Hill was still the athletic director, would be to build the stadium in place of the team’s practice field on Guardsman Way, across the street from the Eccles Football Center.

Currently, that practice field, which includes an indoor hitting shed, is the program’s only on-campus facility. When cold or bad weather hits, the team uses Eccles Field House. It cannot scrimmage there, so the usage is essentially limited to drills. Utah plays its home games at 15,000-seat Smith’s Ballpark, home of the Salt Lake Bees, Triple-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels.

“We’ve got a few sites we’re looking at,” Harlan said. “The Guardsman site is still very intriguing to us because it’s right across from the Eccles Football Center, where all of our student-athletes eat, it’s where our practice facility is now. We just have to work with the city on if it makes sense to partner on some aspects of it, and that’s what we’re going to work on, particularly in the first quarter of ‘23.

It is unclear exactly how the Bees leaving Salt Lake City after the 2024 season will affect Utah’s plans for its own stadium. The team’s owner, the Larry H. Miller Co., plans to build a new, privately financed stadium in Daybreak, with construction complete ahead of the 2025 season.

“Our partnership with the City and the Salt Lake Bees provides a tremendous home field at Smith’s Ballpark for the Utah Baseball program, and we look forward to continuing in that relationship for the next two seasons,” Utah athletics said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “We will continue to evaluate and explore all options to determine the best long-term plan for providing a home field for our baseball program that positions the team for success.”

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