Just typing out loud.
Thought No. 1: Tear down the west grandstand superstructure at Huskie Stadium. Just tear it all down.
That’s the bizarre rumor circulating in town and on the sometimes-amusing “Dog Pound” blog ever since first-year Northern Illinois University athletic director Sean Frazier hinted at a major facilities project announcement this summer on a recent halftime basketball TV interview.
Tear down historic Huskie Stadium? Are these people nuts? In this economy? With a spring semester enrollment below 20,000 and fewer student activity fees? Have you ever heard anything so silly or totally irrational?
An educated guess puts NIU’s annual athletic budget in the $18 million range. While I love my alma mater, I don’t think a mid-major can afford a project similar to the recently announced $400 million Notre Dame Stadium mega-renovation, sorry.
Let’s try to crunch some numbers.
Sixteen years ago, the Huskie Stadium west grandstand was worth an estimated $22 million. Just FYI, the original 1965 cost of the same building was $2.2 million with bond revenue financing. Because of inflation and rising costs 30 years later, the newer east grandstand price tag – featuring fewer seats, less brick and mortar, and little or no interior infrastructure by comparison to the west – ran $4.0 million under bond revenue and private funding.
During the last decade, Northern Illinois went the external route to fulfill its dire athletics facilities’ needs – constructing the state-of-the-art Yordon Center (2007) for $16 milllion and the Chessick Indoor Practice Center (2013) for $11 million with donor dollars. What unprecedented fan/alumni support. Can Frazier and NIU raise this type of external money again?
Tear down historic Huskie Stadium? The teardown and replacement might cost $60-80 million. Get real. Once NIU faculty and staff in some budget-strapped areas hear that type of funding not going to academics or salaries, they might start rioting on campus. The state pension situation and recent changes have not made NIU employees too happy.
Remember this: From ground-breaking in late January 1964 to dedication day in November 1965, Huskie Stadium took 21 months to complete. Imagine doing such a complicated project this snowy and cold winter. Don’t forget, too, Huskie Stadium was finished two months late since the construction firm was simultaneously working on the Chrysler plant in Belvidere (and, in the interim, NIU played its first three 1965 home games on old Glidden Field).
Complete teardown? So where would the Huskies play? Soldier Field? DeKalb High School? Northwestern?
This doesn’t make any sense.
There’s a major difference between teardown and renovation.
It’s not like the Huskie Stadium west grandstand concrete is cracking or crumbling like Wrigley Field was a few years ago. From what I see, the structure is sound. There’s not a bad seat in the house. The real immediate needs would be more bathrooms, better concession areas, and improved access under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Speculation is that Frazier will announce such Huskie Stadium amenities projects, hopefully, a new press box and suite complex would be the No. 1 priority and one that could emulate Central Michigan’s Kelly/Shorts Stadium that runs from goal line to goal line. As someone who has worked more games at Huskie Stadium than anybody else on the planet, promise me, NIU, one thing: Don’t pull a Ball State where the relatively new Scheumann press box print media working area is much too small.
Think ahead. What if the Mid-American Conference Championship Game returns to on-campus sites? Some day, Frazier may schedule a Maryland or Iowa State with large media contingents, shades of 2003. After the strong showing for the IHSA football playoffs last Thanksgiving, NIU’s next bid for the finals – with a state-of-the-art press box – would be difficult to challenge.
The only things most media types need are a working area out of the elements, electricity, wi-fi access, and maybe a sandwich and a soda. I would also recommend a few suites that could be converted into temporary radio booths (if anybody from NIU is reading) if you have more than two radio outlets (which happend during the IHSA weekend). For that classic Maryland game, it was an embarrassment to have to put people (11 NFL scouts) in the stands and on the sidelines, but with 150 media credentials we had no more room. It only worked because it was August 28.
During the obligatory pre-game internal PA announcements in the press box for Maryland, I welcomed the masses to the Huskie Stadium press box (this was before it was named for Bud and Joyce Nangle), outlined our post-game procedures, the elevator, the FWAA no-cheering policy, the weather conditions, and then ad-libbed: “Sorry for the sardine-like conditions up here. Hopefully, we can survive this for three-plus hours. If anybody wants to write a column or sidebar that NIU needs a larger press box, please do...”
The Chicago regulars laughed. The beat man from the Washington Post grumbled and nobody did squat.
Again, I hope the press box situation is addressed this summer. Could Frazier do it for $6-$10 million?
Thought No. 2: Development-wise, I just cannot imagine hosting representatives from the Orange Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl the last two seasons in the current Sky / University / President’s box. There are basement man-caves that are more expansive, inviting, and much more comfortable. If perception is reality, then the Huskie image was hurting those nights. Big-time.
Thought No. 3: Yes, I must admit that over the years I fantasized about a new football press box. I always loved the architects’ drawings for the “Northern Advantage” campaign from the early 1990s. The proposal included enclosing the ramp area on the west side of the original Huskie Stadium superstructure, making it into a vertical mall or atrium, and extending into the parking lot. There would be a food court and a “Huskie” gear shop, plus a second elevator (Toledo has two). Hey, you can always dream.
Thought No. 4: Great news. Northern Illinois athletics nominated former head coach Joe Novak for the Mid-American Conference Hall of Fame. The new induction class will be announced this spring. Outstanding, logical choice, but when does NIU put up some student-athlete candidates?
How about former MAC standouts such as Tim Tyrrell, Allen Rayhorn, Lisa Starosta, Todd Peat, Tim Dillon, etc.? Yeah, Jordan Lynch should be a cinch when he’s eligible in 5-10 years.
Just typing out loud. Again.
• Mike Korcek is a former NIU sports information director. His historical perspective on NIU athletics appears periodically in the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.