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January 31, 2010

Upgrades to USC athletics facilities on fast track

Not long after they cut the ribbon at the new academic enrichment center Wednesday, South Carolina athletics officials hope to start turning dirt on the next projects in Eric Hyman's master facilities plan.

Not long after they cut the ribbon at the new academic enrichment center Wednesday, South Carolina athletics officials hope to start turning dirt on the next projects in Eric Hyman's master facilities plan.

Construction bids will go out in the coming weeks on three projects that will continue to transform the outdated, 1960s-era Roost area into a modern athletics village.

And though the recession has slowed the athletics department's first capital campaign, Hyman is moving forward with his $200 million plan.

"Fundraising is relationships and timing," said Hyman, in his fifth year as USC's athletics director. "And the timing is a challenge."

Demolition work has begun in the area around the $13 million academic center, known as "The Dodie" after Dodie Anderson, the Greer benefactor who donated $5 million to $6 million for the construction.

Workers have ripped out the stands, fences and nets at the men's tennis courts to make way for an $8.8 million, 368-space parking garage. A $19 million athletics administration/coaches support building will go up adjacent to the academic center, while a $4.6 million tennis facility will be built on the former site of Sarge Frye Field.

The parking deck should be done by the end of the year, while the tennis facility is slated to open for the 2011 spring season after the men's and women's teams share the Maxcy Gregg courts this year.

USC coaches and administrators hope to move into their offices in the fall of 2011.

USC expects to spend $16.6 million on infrastructure for the next phase of the redeveloped Roost area, a 41-acre tract where officials also hope to build a basketball practice facility and a spring sports training facility, and to renovate the stadiums for track and softball.

Fundraising could dictate the timetable for the latter projects. The current projects will take USC's debt level to $130 million in revenue bonds - below the school's $200 million ceiling but pushing the limits of Hyman's "comfort zone."

Asked whether officials had identified any big donors like Anderson, Hyman smiled and pointed out that the 82-year-old started at the Century Club ($150 a year) level in her Gamecock Club giving.

The facilities projects will extend beyond the Roost area.

USC has an agreement to take over the Farmers Market for $15 million on July 1, which will leave officials little time to do much with the site before football season.

Hyman plans to level the buildings that housed produce stands and Christmas tree vendors and build an open, tree-lined parking oasis modeled after Keeneland Race Track in Lexington, Ky., and the Grove on Mississippi's campus.

Hyman would like Williams-Brice Stadium to feel more like a campus setting than a blacktop-paved, industrial area. He envisions a space that would accommodate USC's band, an enhanced Gamecock Walk when the team arrives at the stadium and "an area where you can throw a Frisbee and a football before the game."

Hyman eventually would like to move most of the parking away from the stadium to improve pedestrian safety and aesthetics.

"You lose a little of the proximity," Hyman said. "But the beauty of the Farmers Market will be so much better than the (current) view around the stadium."

Other restaurants and retail shops could open to join Bojangles', which has a lease through 2015, to take advantage of the 4,000 students who live in the growing apartment complexes along Bluff Road.

Officials also plan to reserve an area for RVs and set aside land for practice fields in the event the Gamecocks have to move from the current practice site they lease from the National Guard.

Long-range possibilities around the stadium include an indoor practice field on the Farmers Market site, a renovated entrance to the locker room, a new videoboard and the relocation of the coaches' offices to the Crews Building that houses the weight room and team meeting rooms.

There is no immediate talk of expanding the stadium, although USC will spend $3.1 million to renovate the 18 suites on the 200 and 600 levels this offseason.

As the Gamecocks begin to move into state-of-the-art study centers and multimillion-dollar practice and competition facilities, Hyman said there will be no room for excuses about USC lacking the means to compete.

As the campus landscape changes, so do expectations.

"To whom much is given, much is required," Hyman said. "Our responsibility is to give our coaches the resources, and then our expectations change."

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