On a chilly December night four years ago, Kansas State football fans rushed the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium to celebrate a Big 12 championship. The euphoric scene remains one of the most memorable and iconic events in recent Wildcat history, but the stadium it took place in is now difficult to picture.
The stadium has rapidly changed since then. The small, jaded complex of 2012 has become a towering, flashy facility that now ranks among the nicest 50,000-seat structures in college football.
The renovations cost $185 million. This is what they look like: a massive press box that can be seen from miles away and offers first-class service to fans; a training complex that features state-of-the-art equipment and locker rooms for players; and new videoboards that give everyone somewhere fun to look on Saturdays. The place has transformed.
“I saw a picture of the stadium recently and just said, ‘Wow, it is hard to believe all the changes, all the positives,’” K-State donor Mary Ice said. “The athletics department has done such a good job with what they have asked for and how they have utilized the money that’s been given. It is just very much something to be proud of.”
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There are more renovations that debut this season.
Some are already noticeable from afar, such as a new videoboard on the northeast corner that gives the stadium three large screens. Unlike past years, when the north videoboard felt the size of a TV in your living room, fans won’t miss a replay this season.
Other changes won’t be appreciated until game day, such as the marching band’s new seating area on the northeast corner. The new setup gives K-State’s band a prominent location to perform and expands seating throughout the student section. Both were big hits at the Wildcats’ back-to-school pep rally earlier this week, a soft opening of sorts for the newest addition.
“When the Wildcat band loaded into their section, that was perhaps the most special aspect to me,” K-State athletic director John Currie said. “They sounded great and looked great. The band students were absolutely fired up.”
Still, there is another new feature that might top them all in terms of overall significance: a completed concourse that surrounds the stadium’s entire lower bowl.
For the first time, K-State fans will be able to make an uninterrupted walk around the complex. Anyone with a ticket will be able to take in everything the stadium has to offer in a quick stroll.
Though it doesn’t resonate as much as other renovations, an expanded concourse is quietly a big change. Fans like to explore stadiums, especially first-timers. That was difficult with the old U-shaped concourse, which didn’t surround the north end. K-State fans could only view three quarters of the stadium, and they had to walk a long way to do it.
“That should make it a lot more fun for everyone,” Ice said. “If there is someone you want to see on the other side of the stadium, it will be so much more efficient to do that. In the past, it was a big trip.”
Many K-State donors made the quick renovations possible, but few were more generous than Carl and Mary Ice. Their names are featured on each of the stadium’s new videoboards, as well as the basketball training facility next door.
Carl Ice, president and chief executive officer of BNSF Railway, has so many fond K-State sports memories he says it’s impossible to single out even a handful as highlights. Mary feels the same way. They live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but have a home in Manhattan. They attend as many K-State games as possible, occasionally as special guests in prime seats with access to locker rooms.
Currie recalls the day — July 1, 2014 — they made a major donation that fast-tracked the latest round of renovations. Currie thought the improvements were many years away. In a flash of generosity, that timetable changed.
“We are blessed to be able to help,” Carl Ice said. “Kansas State is a special place to us, because of all the great people. We made friends there that are still our friends. As much as things have changed, just being around campus remains very special to us. It has always been a great place for a football game, but over the last few years the changes have added to that atmosphere.”
K-State continues to target future stadium renovations, but these represent the last major changes on the horizon, at least in the short term. Eventually, Currie says K-State will try to surround the playing field with a limestone wall. Adding new video boards and renovating the south end of the stadium is also on his radar.
For now, K-State fans are preparing for another new gameday experience. The stadium of 2012 has never felt more distant.
“Our latest improvements provide a sense of completion,” Currie said. “Having that last corner filled in gives us a good mission-accomplished feel, even though we aren’t done yet. It’s very special.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett