OXFORD, Miss–With the excitement surrounding the team’s third straight bowl appearance in three seasons under the direction of head coach Hugh Freeze, today is a milestone day in the Forward Together campaign, as Ole Miss moves one step closer to making the master plan for Vaught-Hemingway Stadium a reality.
Launched in the fall of 2011, the Forward Together Campaign has now reached $125 million in total cash and pledges, and between the ongoing construction of The Pavilion at Ole Miss and the parking garage, the front door for Ole Miss is beginning to take shape.
“When the Forward Together Campaign was launched in the fall of 2011, the goals for Vaught-Hemingway Stadium were to expand the overall stadium capacity and fan experience amenities, upgrade exterior elements around the stadium that provide more consistency with university architecture, and to expand premium seating offerings in order to provide necessary funding,” Director of Athletics Ross Bjork said. “We are confident and believe this master plan accomplishes those objectives while adding in new elements along the way.”
As part of this front door, scheduled for completion by the start of the 2016 football season, there will be construction of two new entry points. One will be a new plaza between The Pavilion and Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, and the other will be a new green space that extends the Walk of Champions through a new north stadium plaza and bell tower. The plans also include the construction of an M-Club letterwinners’ wall honoring every letterwinner from every sport at Ole Miss.
“The campus of Ole Miss is incredibly unique,” Bjork said. “Everything from the architecture, to the campus layout, to immaculate landscaping, to green spaces like the Grove and the Circle, they are all key factors for why we are voted the most beautiful campus year in and year out.
“The location of the front door of athletics not only connects us to the heart of campus, but builds upon that beauty, while also serving as a functional and effective way to continue to provide Rebel fans with an unmatched gameday experience.”
The master plan also includes two phases of renovation and expansion that will have Vaught-Hemingway Stadium completed by the start of the 2016 football season, bringing the seating capacity to 64,038.
The first phase will be a renovation and expansion of the south end zone, scheduled to start on January 7, 2015 and be finished for the first game of the 2015 season. As part of this phase, 30 luxury suites and 770 club level seats will be added. All 30 luxury suites have already been sold, and 60 percent of the club level seats have been sold.
“We chose the south end zone for the expansion of premium seating because it allows for us to capitalize on the efficiencies of using the same infrastructure already in place, such as a kitchen, elevators, concourse and access to parking,” Bjork said. “In addition to the premium seating, the south end zone’s main concourse will be expanded by 2,500 square feet to accommodate more walking space, as well as the addition of 43 new toilets and 32 concession points of sale.”
The second phase will be a renovation and expansion of the north end zone that will include the completion of the stadium seating bowl with a new brick and stone exterior that matches campus architecture.
Other additions include the installation of a 104-foot-wide and 49-foot-tall video board into the existing structure in the north end zone and the installation of two new 30-foot by 50-foot video boards flanking the sound end zone tower.
As part of the overall expansion in capacity and an effort to further integrate the student body into Ole Miss athletics, the student section will also see an increase in capacity and a move to the north end zone for the 2016 season.
“The student section will grow from 8,200 seats to just over 10,000 seats, but more importantly, the north end zone keeps more students closer to Hollingsworth Field where they can create the home-field advantage we know the Vaught must have to compete for championships,” Bjork said.
With the renovation and expansion, Ole Miss will be able to accommodate 5,500 more Rebel fans, once the stadium reaches a full capacity of 64,038 for the 2016 season. It will also include the addition of 185 new toilets and 56 concession points of sale in the stadium.
“As you can see, this expansion of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is much more about quality of the experience than quantity,” Bjork said.“While we have produced record crowds the last two years we have also studied trends around the country and monitored the growth of our own fan base. And it tells us we must use extra care in determining stadium capacity and we are on the right track with quality and quantity.”
Ole Miss set a new single-season attendance record with 430,829 fans in 2014, surpassing last year’s record by more than 15,000. And for the second straight year, Ole Miss sold out of football season tickets.
“It is very important to note that if the demand for additional seating requires changes in the future, this master stadium plan includes flexibility for future expansion,” Bjork said. “Whether that is a north end zone that mirrors the south end zone, or even a new press box and upper deck on the west side, those options and others will exist as part of this master plan.”