By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – When Ole Miss relaunched its Forward Together capital campaign a few weeks ago, there were immediate concerns by some about what appeared to be a scaled-back project in the north end zone of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Original plans in 2011 called for end zone suites and a finished product that would match the south end zone, which opened for business in 2002.
The goal then was to create a main entrance on the north end that would connect the stadium to the Grove.
The artist rendering that was released showed a completed seating “bowl” for the stadium – replacing the unconnected stands that currently occupy the north end – but no suites and a different look for the structure.
Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork says additional premium seating for football remains important but that he and his staff are trying to achieve that in the most cost-effective manner.
“We have the infrastructure and all those things that cost extra to build a feature like the south end zone. To build that on the north, we said is that the right approach? Do we need to replicate the north end zone exactly like the south. We discovered that maybe the answer is not necessarily,” Bjork said.
Adding elevators and features such as concourses and concession stands would increase the cost of the project.
The primary goal for the campaign remains a new basketball arena which will be built on the existing west side parking lot of the football stadium. The merchandise store that currently sits there will come down, and a 500-space parking garage will be added just south of the arena site on what is now the northern-most of three outdoor football practice fields.
Officials hope to break ground on the arena in the spring with a goal of opening the building no later than January 2016 in time for SEC basketball.
The capital campaign recently passed the $95 million mark in pledges and cash, and Bjork says an additional $10 million is needed before Nov. 1 to keep to the construction schedule.
“I don’t think we would have put that out there unless we believed in our ability to secure those gifts, and we’ve got a really good head start on that number,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of conversations going, and we’re confident we can hit that. We’ve just got to close these gifts out. Our donors, we believe, are ready to do that.”
He is also confident in additional luxury amenities for the football stadium whether that is in the north end zone or someplace else.
The north end zone has not been ruled out, nor have possible renovations to the press box and the west side luxury seating.
“We definitely will add premium seating,” Bjork said. “It’s just really a matter of where does it go? We’ll have a lot more answers throughout the fall as we go along here.”