At times, the renovation plans at Kansas’ Memorial Stadium can feel a little bit like Dr. Dre’s oft-rumored album “Detox.” The public keeps hearing about it, and the preparations continue, but you’re never quite certain if this thing is really going to happen.
In the case of Detox, Dr. Dre has been promoting its release since the early 2000s — and we’ve yet to see a finished product. In the case of Memorial Stadium, Kansas officials have been pondering a major renovation for the better part of the last decade.
But discussions and plans for Memorial Stadium have heated up in the last 12 months, and on Friday, Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger offered the latest evidence that the renovation project is gaining the traction. Zenger told The Star that Kansas City-based architecture firm HNTB was ready to present its design plans to KU officials.
After HNTB presents its design plans, Zenger said, athletic department officials will begin taking them to major donors, hoping to spark interest in what will need to be a massive fund-raising campaign. He also hopes that the design plans — and the current project that removed the track — could inspire more ideas during the renovation project.
“To be totally candid,” Zenger said, “… it’s kind of like when you build a house. One spouse wants to build the house one way or wants windows, the other spouse wants another. Every time I look at a design that HNTB shows up with, I don’t have all the answers. So you realize, no matter what we design, we’re never going to please everybody.”
The Star spoke with Zenger on Friday, the first day of fall camp for the Kansas football program, and the conversation turned to the ongoing plans for Memorial Stadium. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Q: How do you think Memorial Stadium looks since they removed the track? (The project is mostly completed, with the new turf laid down and a new fence being installed on the south side of the stadium.)
Zenger: “For me, it was mainly about player safety and practice space. That’s the old coach in me. For the fans, I’m excited about it. The optics of it, it’s a football facility now. Only a football facility, and I think people will enjoy it.
“This was the optical illusion that I’ve always wondered about. And I love the history of the track program, so there’s certainly a part of me that struggled with seeing the track go. But that track created an optical illusion … the field looks so far away. What I saw from the press box today was, like any other football field, like any other BCS football stadium, when you put down the turf with the dotted lines for the players and all, you see that that’s what other stadiums look like.”
Q: So HTNB is working on the design plans for the larger renovation. What’s the next step?
Zenger: “You want to get it right. This will be the biggest project that we’ve undertaken since the building of Allen Fieldhouse, and whatever we do, we’re going to have to live with for a long, long time. And so, I’m probably being more careful than I should be.
“But it’s a daunting task to renovate a World War I memorial that represents so much to the Jayhawk faithful and alumni, not just in football but in graduation. We want to do it right.
“We keep sending HNTB back to the drawing board for little tweaks, and at some point, we’re just going to have to pull the trigger and say this is what we’re going to do; and then we’ll take those drawings out to the potential donors and go from there.”