It’s finally official — the Fighting Illini are on the verge of another massive renovation project for Memorial Stadium. Josh Whitman penned the following letter to IFund members on Monday morning to announce the undertaking, and he’ll be discussing the $132 million effort in greater detail during a press conference at 12:30pm CT.
According to the press release, the renovations will add a plethora of team facilities in the south end zone, including new locker rooms, training/recovery/sports medicine areas, meeting and office space, and recruiting venues. Overall stadium capacity is expected to remain around 60,000.
Illinois hopes for the south end zone portion of the project to be completed during the Summer of 2019, with the following changes to the east grandstand taking hold in 2020.
Josh Whitman's Letter to Illinois Fans
Dear Friends & Fellow Illini:
In March, we took a bold step forward with Illinois Football, hiring coaching icon Lovie Smith to lead our Fighting Illini. Immediately, we began to build tomorrow’s Big Ten champions.
Coach Smith’s arrival sent a jolt of energy through the Illini Nation. Throngs of orange-clad Illini have greeted him with unbridled enthusiasm and confidence. This fever pitch reached its crescendo on September 10, when we saw the awesome power of an Illini Nation on fire. That night, more than 60,000 raucous Fighting Illini packed Memorial Stadium to watch our beloved football team take the field. It was our first sellout in more than five years, and we did it in only the second game of Coach Smith’s tenure.
If we were writing a movie, the script for the evening would have ended differently. But this is not a movie. It is major college athletics. The game was an important reminder that successful programs are not built with one bold step. They are built with thousands of such steps, made steadily by countless people united in pursuit of a consistent and unflinching vision. We must stay the course and continue our ascent.
On this journey, we will undoubtedly encounter setbacks. But adversity serves only to galvanize us against the challenges ahead. It is the resulting strength that will ultimately allow us to persevere – to stand victorious atop the mountain, our orange and blue flag planted firmly at the summit.
Bearing these things in mind, today we announce another bold step forward. The next phase of the Illinois Renaissance is upon us.
A building boom in college athletics is sweeping the country. Nationwide, universities are investing billions of dollars in updated athletic facilities. Projects target the full spectrum of sports, but in no sport has the boom been so pronounced as in football. Look no further than our Big Ten competitors. Major football investments are occurring across the conference – not only at schools like Michigan and Ohio State, but also at Iowa, Purdue, and Indiana. To compete, and ultimately to win, the University of Illinois must invest as well.
In 2005, we launched the Illinois Renaissance with extensive changes to the west and north sides of Memorial Stadium. Today, as the stadium nears its centennial birthday, we are preparing for another round of dramatic improvements to the program’s iconic home.
Plans call for an enhanced fan experience on the stadium’s east side, including new restrooms and concessions. Fans will also enjoy improved accessibility in the form of new entrances and elevators. Most compelling, however, are the changes intended for the south end of the stadium. There, the "horseshoe" stands will be demolished, replaced by a new south grandstand. In addition to amenities similar to those that will be found on the renovated east side, the area will feature greater seating capacity, with fans much closer to the action on the field. The grandstand will enclose the entire stadium, making it feel more intimate for our fans and more intimidating for our opponents.
Driving the project is the need to update our outdated football facilities. Today’s program bears little resemblance to that which existed 30 years ago, when the current football operations complex was constructed. The football staff has grown substantially and now numbers more than 40 full-time professionals. Improvements to technology and methodology have changed the way players and coaches interact, train, prepare, and recover. Advancements in sports medicine and strength training have outpaced our facility’s ability to house them. As a result, we are missing critical opportunities for our football student-athletes to prepare and develop, constrained by the limited functionality of our current facilities.
Of equal importance is the impact a quality facility has on recruiting. Make no mistake: before the nation’s best and brightest student-athletes are competing for us, we are competing for them. Our facilities must demonstrate an institutional commitment to building, supporting, and sustaining a winning football program. For us to advance, our present limitations can have no place in our future.
The new south grandstand will house all new training facilities for the Illinois football program. Features of the new facilities include a grand entryway, expansive locker room and team spaces, meeting rooms, cutting edge sports medicine and weight training facilities, dramatic recruiting areas, and staff offices. When completed, Illinois Football will have a home that allows us to assume our position as one of the nation’s elite programs.
The timeline is aggressive. The new football facilities and south grandstand are scheduled for completion prior to the start of the 2019 season, with the renovated east stands completed in 2020. When the team moves into its new home, Coach Smith will be entering the fourth year of his Illinois tenure. The coaching staff is already using the facility plans to present a compelling case to the current recruiting class, which will have as many as three years remaining in their Illinois careers to benefit from the new facilities.
Such ambitious plans do not come cheaply. Cost estimates for the new facilities total more than $130 million. No state dollars, tuition dollars, or student fees will support the project, with the athletic program directly responsible for its entire funding.
We need you to share in our vision. With your help, every day we are taking the steps necessary to build a successful football program. Of varying size and scope, these steps are made by Coach Smith, by our coaches and staff, and by our student-athletes. They are made by me. And make no mistake, they are made by you. Today’s step is significant and must be made in unison by the Illini Nation.
We must be unfailing in our faith. We must be committed to our mission. Building enduring excellence is not for the feeble or the faint of heart. We must continue the gritty, tough progress that is the hallmark of champions. Join us on our journey. The opportunity stands before us. The time for action is now