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Posted on Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 8:54 p.m.

Michigan Stadium renovation honors the past, prepares venue for future

By Pete Bigelow

Standing on the corner of Stadium and Main Street, it's hard not to enjoy the view of the renovated Michigan Stadium.

The new brick exterior honors the original architecture and history of Ann Arbor's most famous building. The arches lend a sense of history. The low height of corner towers maintains the sanctity of the surrounding neighborhood.

Standing on the inside of the stadium Wednesday during a tour to showcase the renovation, it was hard to, again, not appreciate the view, as well as the new amenities the old stadium lacked.

It's hard to believe that only two summers ago, a segment of Michigan supporters ardently opposed this project, that the group called Save The Big House formed and worried luxury boxes desecrating a timeless landmark.

The Big House was indeed saved, not by groups stuck in the past, but by Bill Martin and his construction shovels.

From the exterior, Michigan Stadium had become dumpy and dated. The interior had become known for its crowded walkways, long lines and cramped seating.

Watching a game at The Big House may have evoked some sort of nostalgia for fans, but using the stadium in a practical sense had become somewhat of a miserable experience.

The university's Board of Regents ultimately supported the $221 million renovation plan in June 2007 with a 6-2 vote, and their faith has been rewarded. Michigan Stadium looks great. It probably has never looked better.

On Wednesday, officials showed off wide concourses that will open for the 2010 season that will alleviate crowding. They talked about 20 new points of purchase that will shorten concession lines, and noted that dozens of new toilet facilities will be added.

When the renovations are finished, the fan experience is going to improve a lot.

Luxury boxes? Yes, they will be there too. Michigan will charge $55,000 to $85,000 per box per season, depending on the vantage point. There will also be premium seating that rakes in more money for the self-sufficient athletic department.

And the bowl?

The luxury boxes don't at all interfere with the original intent of Fielding Yost, who designed it.

Capacity at the stadium will fluctuate during the construction, reaching at least 110,000 the next two years before dipping as seats are widened in the bowl. By the time it's done, assistant athletic director Joe Parker said the finished capacity would reach beyond 108,000, which is more than the 107,501 the place held before construction began.

The one missing piece Michigan officials must figure out before all is said and done is what to do with the iconic "Michigan Stadium" letters currently on the roof of the press box.

Currently, there are no plans for the letters. But they sure seem like an essential part of the history of the stadium, and should hold their perch again. It's an easy enough fix.

Overall, the stadium looks great. The exterior has been refurbished in a way that honors the venue's traditions. The interior will provide a better fan experience. Michigan will get richer.

What's not to like?

Pete Bigelow covers sports for He can be reached at or at 734-662-2556.



Sat, Aug 29, 2009 : 10:24 a.m.

"The arches lend a sense of history"? Who's History?. "The low height of corner towers maintains the sanctity of the surrounding neighborhood"? Are you kidding me, there is no transition to the existing structure, The drop-off from tower to existing stadium height is drastic. I fail to see how any of the new structure relates to the neighborhood. The "Renovation"? it's an expansion, call it what it is please. It screams were rich, we want to cater to the wealthy and we'll do what we want because we can.

David Briegel

Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 2:27 p.m.

So you believe the guys that spend all that money will not be allowed to have booze? Wait till they complain. I bet the prohibition won't last long!

Pete Bigelow

Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 1:37 p.m.

Borbsi, You're right. It is about the money. Of course it's about the money. But why is that, on its own, a bad thing? The historical integrity of the stadium has been preserved. The gameday experience has been enhanced. The sight lines seem untouched. The rich people -- the ones who endow scholarships and build practice facilities desperately needed to stay on par with the rest of college football -- have their luxury boxes. The athletic department will widen its profit margins. Taxpayers were kept out of the $221 million equation. A dated facility has been upgraded. Again, what's not to like? This one was a no-brainer when the Regents passed it, and after seeing the stadium yesterday, can say the architects did it the right way.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 12:58 p.m.

Yeah, thumbs up on the improvements. This is the kind of stadium you win conference and national championships in. With style. Now, if we could just get people to stop calling it the "Big House"

Adam B

Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 12:29 p.m.

Borbsi- Even if it was all about money, this money isn't going into some faceless conglomerate's pockets, it's being used to support the hundreds of other student athletes. I hope they make as much money as they can. It allows for new baseball/soccer/field hockey stadiums. Hopefully it will lead to more varsity sports like men's lacrosse, two time defending national champoions.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 8:48 a.m.

The university, sport programs, and stadium patrons, will greatly benefit from these improvements. U of M stadium will be a significant, modern venue worthy of World Cup Championship caliber events. Kudos to Mr. Martin, UM regents, and architect/planners for their efforts in this endeavor!


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 7:28 a.m.

Too bad about the "alcohol-free" thing. It used to be great when you were allowed to take whatever you wanted in. Since Fielding Yost himself had the stadium designed for expansion anywhere from 140K to 200K, I'm all for expanding the stadium even more. I think 120K or 140K would be enough to keep the pretenders at PSU and UT from trying to usurp the Big House's reputation as the Biggest House. Also, the much-ballyhooed "louder acoustics" would be even louder with a couple of upper decks at the end zones. I would like to experience the stadium when this expansion is fully finished, though. Maybe a 1200-mile road trip is in order.


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 7:23 a.m.

Someone wrote: "It is all about the MONEY.. btw the cramped seating was due to too many seats in a row!! gimmie more MONEY. yeah!! Twenty more locations for green hotdogs. yeah!!" The last time I checked, nobody at UM was forcing anyone to go to the game. If you don't like it, don't go.

David Briegel

Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 6:48 a.m.

It only honors the billionaires who can't be subjected to the "atmosphere" with the rest of us! No booze for us but I will bet there will booze in those suites!


Thu, Aug 27, 2009 : 5:58 a.m.

a) that quarter of a billion dollars went into the economy at a time when the State of Michigan needed economic stimulus to say the least b) they need to put the letters up over the press boxes -- they are a little Deco looking, but they are part of the Stadium that needs to stay.


Wed, Aug 26, 2009 : 10:10 p.m.

The "fan experience" could have been improved for much less than the quarter billion spent on the "swell experience".It is all about the MONEY.. btw the cramped seating was due to too many seats in a row!! gimmie more MONEY. yeah!! Twenty more locations for green hotdogs. yeah!!