Bjork: End zone expansion might be scaled down



By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

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.”

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  • JB

    Ross Bjork is a dreamer? Guest the Rebel booster and fan base have the assets to pull this off, some very rIch people up there in Mississippi. Guess all the old Farmers up there have died off and left it all to the billionaires. Do not tempt God!!!

  • Kevin

    As an Ole Miss graduate, I oppose stadium expansion at this time. Ole Miss fans are notorious for leaving games by the third quarter or in some instances by halftime. What remains is a skeleton fan base in an oversized stadium; empty seats abound. Moreover, while ticket sales have been brisk this season, between 2007 and 2012 I noticed that half the games on the schedule each of those years were not actual sell outs (may have sold all the tickets, but that’s deceiving). When Ole Miss cannot fill the stadium up for South Carolina in 2008–an SEC game–then something’s wrong with the fan base and that should discourage proponents of a stadium expansion. I really believe this is Ole Miss fans’ attempt to club State fans over the head because they are in the process of expanding Wade-Davis. It’s keeping up with the bulldogs, so to speak.

    • Thile

      Any realistic fan would be fine with that latest artist’s rendering for the NEZ. I’m for expansion, but only to bowl the NEZ and get rid of those high-schoolish bleachers. I heard lots of clamoring about “put the capacity over 80k!” which is just silly. Actually, Ole Miss had plans to expand VHS before Clanga started theirs in an attempt to one-up The Flagship.

      • Kevin

        Why add more seats to the stadium when it’s likely to allow fans from the visiting team to sit there? Any realistic fan would know that Ole Miss has a fan participation problem at home games. Put down the drink in the Grove and come to the stadium to root on the Rebs.

  • pdreb

    Kevin, the NEZ needs a remake and no suites etc. are needed, just bowl it in. Realize that we sold out season tickets and completely sold out the LSU and TAMU games. 2014 and beyond VH needs to be in the 70,000 plus range. That NEZ seating has been there for at least 50 years and needs to go.