On Thursday, I toured InfoCision Stadium and walked around on Summa Field (See, I'm willing to plug both major donors!)
Frank Horn, who serves as Ted Curtis' director of architectural design and construction, took Dan Kadar and me wherever we wanted to go. And we wanted to go just about everywhere.
Although an Ohio.com video is coming Wednesday, here are scribbles from my notebook. For your reference, I posted a rendering of the stadium.
Horn had been at the University of Akron for only two weeks in 2003 when he met with President Luis Proenza and Curtis, and they decided that it was no longer economically feasible to dump money into the Rubber Bowl. Six years later, the daunting task of building a new stadium is nearly complete.
We began the tour by walking through the lower level on the west end of the stadium (the west end is the side with the press tower.) I was a little surprised to see that not all of the lower level bleachers will have chairbacks. Only the middle section will have that luxury at first. With enough demand, it won't be difficult to add them. You will see that as a recurring theme. The designers built this stadium with a load of future upgrades in mind. Other examples: There is room for three additional luxury suites on the sixth level. Seating can be expanded significantly with bleachers on the north end.
The designers made it very convenient for disabled people to watch the Zips. There are multiple miniboxes for disabled people. These miniboxes (my term, not theirs) have room for several chairs or wheelchairs. And these seats are phenomenal. I mean, they are positioned at the perfect height for viewing the game -- between the lower-level seats and the upper-level bleachers on the west end. The miniboxes are in such a great position that I wonder if UA will sell some of these spots on a game-by-game basis if disabled people do not demand them in proportion to ADA predictions. Kudos to UA for such a compassionate gesture.
You pass these miniboxes when you walk up the lower level stairs and under the second-level bleachers. This is where the west end's restrooms and concessions are located. The designers made certain that fans will not be away from their seats for long when they need to eat, drink, or relieve themselves. There will be one concessions service point for every 250 fans. I don't have the Rubber Bowl data, but that must be an exponential upgrade. I was similarly amazed at the array of restrooms. Unfortunately, troughs will not be available.
We began to navigate our way to the top of the press tower. We could not use the bank of three elevators because an operator is still required at this point. However, the elevators will be very fast -- requiring only 15 seconds to transport fans from the lobby to the sixth floor.
The second and third floors are classrooms, which will not be ready until the spring. The space will belong to the College of Education's Sports Science program. The floor plan appeared to permit large laboratory settings. Large windows face west toward campus.
The fourth floor is the club and loge level. An open-air gathering point sits at either end. The university will rent this space for banquets.
The fifth floor houses the suites. One of the coolest features about the suites is their interactive television system, which allows fans to use the screen to play DVDs, radio, game film, feeds from multiple cameras at the stadium or instant replays. Users can also access the Internet or buy merchandise at the team shop through the TVs.
Horn was really excited about the windows on the suites. They implemented a state-of-the-art window system that does not require steel posts and minimizes viewing obstruction. I, on the other hand, was awed by the president's suite. It has capacity for 54 patrons, including a full bar and buffet. The amenities should grease the pockets of wealthy alumni who are guests of Proenza.
The lobby areas for the club and suite levels feature a great view of downtown Akron. The suite's lobby overlooks the club's lobby, so that the two levels can share energy and atmosphere.
The sixth level is mainly for the media. There is room for 52 writing press, which seems about five times greater than the Rubber Bowl. You would like to think that a stadium's amenities would not determine whether its team gets media coverage, but I'm telling you that the Rubber Bowl's media area must have been keeping people away. There are also booths for the coaches, television analysts and cameras.
We went back downstairs and over to the east side of the stadium. It is sweet and simple. The bleachers are metal to enhance the fans' sound. Underneath is similar to the west side, with loads of concessions and restrooms. Two locker rooms are beneath the concessions area. Three large light poles will stand behind the bleachers. Workers will affix lights to the west side's press tower on July 7.
The south end, of course, is where the scoreboard will sit. There will be a large grassy student area between the field and scoreboard. They chose to plant grass seed, rather than sod, because planting seed makes for a more durable surface on a slope. The students also will sit on the south side of the bleachers. The university has allocated 5,500 seats for students, and also the endzone grass. It's first come, first serve.
The southwest corner of the stadium will house the main ticket office. Ticket offices also are on the northeast and northwest tips of the venue. In the future, a giant team shop also will face Exchange Street.
About 10 yards past the north end zone is a training facility and gameday locker room. On gamedays, the Zips will dress in their locker room at Stile Field House. They will come down the stairs into the gamday locker room, which is more geared toward meetings and pregame activities. The training facility has an two in-ground therapy pools (one hot, one cold). There are also four locker rooms for other university sports inside this building. Atop the training facility, there is ample room for fans to stand and watch the game. I can't think of a better place to view the game when one team is charging toward the north end zone.
Parking will be more of a hassle than people want. But this is the University of Akron, after all. Horn pointed to the bright side of the issue. He talked about the White Sox stadium being in the middle of nowhere, but people have plenty of parking. People attend the game, then go home. Wrigley Field, on the other hand, sits in the middle of a neighborhood. Fans stay in Wrigleyville for hours after the game. I'm sure the City of Akron would love for "Rootown" to stimulate its economy in a similar manner.
When we filmed our video, we had to be careful not to drag our feet, which would upset the turf. At this point, the rubber additive is missing. Soon, a giant machine will spread the rubber pellets throughout the field. Right now, it feels like walking on a thin rug that's sitting on gravel. Basically, that's what it is.
There is other information I'm omitting because I don't want to steal thunder from our video. I guarantee I forgot to mention other tidbits from our tour. If you have questions, fire away, and I'll try to answer.