Michigan Stadium renovation honors the past, prepares venue for future
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 AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 734-662-2556.