I got my third tour of Memorial Stadium today and I can confidently report to Cal fans: You’re gonna love it.
I first was taken through the facility in April, when the project was taking shape but had much left to do. Then in early July, I got another tour, which reflected substantial progress but still a long list of unfinished work.
On Friday, although not entirely finished, the place looked gorgeous.
— Click here for a photo slide show courtesy of Anda Chu
The university’s objective was to take a facility that generations of Cal fans love, make it safe, modernize it, provide the small touches that give it style, yet maintain the character and feel of the 1923 structure.
They have succeeded.
There were few bad seats in the house in the past, and there are perhaps none now. By lowering the field four feet, those low-row seats no longer have their view blocked a curtain of 6-foot-5 football players wearing cleats and helmets along the sidelines.
Sad to report that those of you who enjoyed plucking splinters out of your backside after a game are out of luck. The old wooden bleachers are gone.
Those of you lucky (and wealthy) enough to have seats in the eighth-level presidents box on the west side of the stadium will enjoy spectacular views of the field while seated in perhaps the most comfortable chairs I have ever settled into. I considered spending the night.
There are amenities everywhere. Top Dog, that Berkeley culinary tradition, will have two concession stands along the East rim. The main concourses are sufficiently wide that fans no longer will feel they are running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. Where there once was one elevator, there now are seven. The joint has 365 restroom stalls.
Mostly, though, Memorial Stadium still will feel like the place where you went to games as a kid or an undergrad. The view up Strawberry Canyon remains, as do the unparalleled vistas toward San Francisco and the bay.
During an afternoon news conference, Cal dignataries smiled so broadly you knew their faces would hurt for days.
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said “autumn Saturdays (last year) just didn’t feel the same on campus without the excitement of Cal football.” He promised fans will be “awed” by the new facility.
Athletic director Sandy Barbour, noting, “It’s difficult to believe this day is here,” recalled how various options for the future home of Cal football were considered. Included among them was possibly moving the stadium off campus — and far from the Hayward fault that runs through Memorial Stadium.
Ultimately, she said, everyone agreed to tackle the project that has consumed Cal athletics for the past seven years. “Today validates our decision in such a big way — the decision to restore Memorial Stadium, to keep football on our campus.”
George Breslauer, executive vice chancellor and provost, pointed out that Memorial Stadium is the one place on campus that brings together every demographic of the university community — students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, members of the broader Bay Area community — “to cheer for the object of their common affection.”
Barbour, while thanking dozens who contributed to the project and promising to show her gratitude to hundreds more over the coming months and years, noted proudly that “this was conservatively a 30-month project, delivered game-ready in under 21 months.”
Of course, much of the $321 million pricetag — to be financed entirely by private donors — still exists. John Wilton, vice chancellor for administration and finance, opened his remarks by suggesting, “Today is not a day to go into the financial weeds.”
Pressed to explain how the debt will be paid, Wilton asked which members of the assembled crowd purchased their home with a single cash payment.
Then he expressed confidence that even in a difficult and ever-changing economy, the debt will eventually be retired. “This project was always projected to be debt financed over a fairly long period of time . . . (it) will be paid from the future revenue from athletics,” he said.
Barbour reported that although the Sept. 1 opener against Nevada is not yet a sellout, she is confident it will be. She said the ticket office, in recent days, has sold an average of 1,700 tickets per day for that game.
Coach Jeff Tedford called the stadium “unbelievable,” and said his only disappointment is that Cal no longer provides “absolutely the worst visiting locker room in the country.”
Tedford added, “There is no place like Memorial Stadium to play a football game — the beauty, atmosphere. There is nothing like it. People are going to be amazed.”
“She’s beautiful,” Barbour concluded.