February 21, 2014

$14.5 million approved to upgrade area around Williams-Brice

The University of South Carolina will try to make the walk around Williams-Brice Stadium as pleasant for Gamecock fans as another win over Clemson.

USC trustees approved a $14.5 million makeover on Friday to swap the asphalt parking lots around the stadium with tree-lined brick walkways.

The pedestrian-friendly plaza should reduce the amount of crowding around the 80,250-seat stadium for fans who weaved through cars and television trucks and shuffled along some narrow pathways, school officials said.

"It sort of gives you the feel of an industrial area (now) and when we’re finished, you’re going to feel like you’re in a garden or a theme park," USC athletics director Ray Tanner said.

Work is scheduled to begin after the end of next football season and open in time for kickoff in 2015, school architect Derek Gruner told trustees.

The Gamecocks have shelled out more than $50 million around the stadium and on football facilities in recent years as the program has improved under head coach Steve Spurrier. The team went a Southeastern Conference championship game and collected three straight 11-win seasons.

USC spent $30 million to transform the former State Farmers Market on Bluff Road across from the stadium into a 3,000-space tailgating lot called Gamecock Park. Donors contributed to pay for a new $6 million video scoreboard in the stadium. The school is building $17 million in new indoor and outdoor football practice facilities at the back of Gamecock Park.

The projects were paid mainly with bonds backed by revenue from ticket sales and broadcast fees as well as donations.

"High quality has a price," USC trustee Chuck Allen, a former Gamecock football player, said.

Pastides said USC has been executing a plan laid out over the past several years.

No other big athletics projects are planned, Pastides said, though Tanner said he would like to add suites on the east side of the stadium to raise more revenue.

"If the fans are saying 'What's next?' then I would say 'Don't hold your breath,' " Pastides said.

The plaza around the stadium will mimic the appearance of the Gamecock Park and create what President Harris Pastides said would be "one of the most beautiful, fan friendly atmospheres and environments that you can think of."

The makeover includes tearing down the buildings east of the stadium that the university bought from ETV.

USC will move the team’s ticket office along with an expanded Gamecock gift store to a new building on the corner of Key Road and George Rogers Boulevard, Gruner said.

The ticket office and store are moving from the north part of the stadium where they can clog some walkways.

The northwest corner outside the stadium will include an area for statues, Gruner said. Some alumni have discussed adding one for USC’s only Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers.

Plans call for building a set of restrooms just outside the stadium.

Cars parked around the stadium would move to lots the school bought on Key Road on the site of the soon-to-be demolished ETV buildings. The number of cars parked just outside the stadium dropped to 125 from 500 last season, Tanner said.

The TV trucks would park in the extreme southwest corner of the stadium site and out of the path of pedestrians.

The area will be named the "Springs-Brooks Plaza" after Tami Springs-Brooks, the widow of the former president of the Hooters dining chain who donated $2.7 million to the project, Tanner said. The rest is being paid for with revenue bonds.

Having a nice front entrance to the stadium should help the school’s bottom line, Tanner said.

"It’s very important for our success and sustaining it," Tanner said.

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