on May 1, 2008 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Gamecocks’ new stadium rises

COLUMBIA — South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman strolled between the bent rebar and cinderblocks with a smile. Although the Gamecocks’ $35.6 million stadium is just a third complete, there’s more than enough evidence the school’s ambitious facilities plan is more than mechanical drawings and estimated costs.

“I think it’s sort of uplifting,” Hyman said. “I think people, they want to see tangible things. You can talk about all you want, but people want to say, ‘Where’s the beef?’ I think you begin to see where’s the beef.”

The stadium project, conceived four years ago, has shifted through a previous athletic administration and moved around several potential locations. It has also more than tripled its $10 million estimate in 2004.

Hyman, who took over the department in 2005, folded the stadium into a nearly $200 million plan that would upgrade most of the school’s athletic facilities.

“People in the athletic department and our student athletes are excited about what’s going to take place in the next several years,” Hyman said.

South Carolina coach Ray Tanner has promised recruits the past several years that they would play in a new building as freshman. He is glad his words will finally hold true.

In 2007, the Gamecocks spent the season honoring crumbling Sarge Frye Field — their home since 1977 — with an eye toward the new park this year. However, increased construction costs and a need to excavate more granite than originally planned at the 29-acre site by the Congaree River pushed first pitch back to 2009.

Tanner has led the Gamecocks to eight straight NCAA tournament appearances and three trips to the College World Series (2002-04). Some wondered if the stadium delays might ultimately wear on Tanner’s patience and cause him to look at other jobs.

Not to worry, the coach said.

“I never really got frustrated,” he said. “I understand that if we were going to build a fabulous facility, it was going to take time.”

Project managers say construction on the stadium, which could accommodate about 8,000 fans, should be complete by September. The building’s first game will take place next February against Duquesne.

The stadium’s infrastructure is rising daily. Crews smeared concrete on cinderblocks in the Gamecocks’ team area Wednesday while other workers prepared the bases that will hold the 5,400 chair-back seats. The facility will include four indoor batting cages, expansive locker and training rooms, along with a baseball office for Tanner that would overlook the field.

From behind home plate, Columbia’s skyline is visible, even after installation of 40-foot high, 80-foot wide, batter’s eye wall in center.

“I think everyone will have something to brag about,” said Greg Hughes, project manager for Contract Construction.

Hyman thinks that will be true of all the facilities plans he has put in place.

South Carolina’s athletic department recently broke ground on an $13 million academic enrichment center scheduled to open in 2009. Hyman said they’ve also begun renovating the training area at Williams-Brice Stadium, the $2.5 million in improvements part of the larger plan that calls for $73 million in upgrades for the arena.

Hyman said he’s been in “deep discussions” for the naming rights to the baseball stadium and the field. The department says stadium naming rights will go to the individual or corporation that donates at least half of the $24.7 million in construction costs.

Even when the stadium is complete, Hyman expects it would take several years to see the full impact of the university’s facilities plan.

“I know there’s a lot of anxiety and a lot of excitement from people, but we want to make sure we do it the right way,” Hyman said.