Approaching Memorial Stadium from the east, it’s impossible to miss two giant graphics depicting football scenes — one against a game-day backdrop with Missouri coach Gary Pinkel hovering in the upper left corner and another featuring Academic Hall’s six iconic (and ionic) columns — that adorn the east-side expansion project’s new light towers.
“The large graphics on the outside really give it some pop,” said J.E. Dunn vice president Tom Heger, who oversaw the project.
The striking images — measuring 35 feet high by 53 feet wide — are among the highlights unveiled Tuesday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $45.5 million project, which university officials and representatives of contractor J.E. Dunn said would be completed on time and on budget for Saturday’s season opener against South Dakota State.
“We were trying to create a dominant SEC atmosphere for Mizzou, and I think we really achieved that,” said Populous project manager Algen Williams, who helped design the expansion project. “They wanted it to be an SEC stadium, if you will, so we brought the exterior façade closer to the road and elevated the structure, the towers, on the sides to try and make it as dominating as possible.”
The east-side expansion, which took 16 months to complete, features more intimate club and loge seating areas compared to the spacious suites added on the press-box side before the 2013 season.
“It’s smaller and more intimate, but the premium level really is the crown jewel,” said Heger, who also worked on Mizzou Arena’s construction 10 years ago. “It spans from one side to the other and you literally can’t see from one side to the other with a little bit of a curvature.”
MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin’s suite has moved to the southeast corner of the Columns Club, which sits below the Tiger Terrace — an upper deck of bench seating that was added as part of the project.
“I think it turned out great, and it looks great to have people in there,” said J.E. Dunn superintendent Shannon Burrow, who was in charge of the construction site day to day and identified himself as a Missouri fan from Concordia, Mo. “Anywhere you go in the place, there’s not a bad seat in the house in my opinion.”
The original plans called for no suites in the Columns Club, but Loftin, who typically mingles throughout the crowd during games, wanted a place where his Deans could bring donors and other dignitaries.
“We only put one suite in here, because the chancellor wanted to move out on this side when he saw how great it looked,” MU senior associate athletic director for operations Tim Hickman said.
The new seating bumps Missouri back to its pre-construction seating capacity of approximately 71,000.
“Basically, those 1,200 seats have funded about $72 million worth of projects that we’ve been doing over the last two years,” Hickman said. “It generates the mortgage payments on those bonds and we’re above all of our proformas and hitting all those numbers. We’re excited and it’s helping our program grow.”
Workers will put the finishing touches on the project, including the final modifications to the new ribbon advertising boards and drain plugs in drinking fountains during the next few days.
“There were definitely challenges along the way,” Heger said. “Last winter was very cold and there was a lot of snow, which presented a lot of challenges because we were finishing up the concrete towers in the middle of winter. We had a lot of workers who were working in below-freezing, teens, 20-degree weather and they were out here six days a week pouring concrete. This project is really a testament to those workers, who had the dedication to get the job done.”
The Columns Club also can be used for recruiting functions, banquets or wedding receptions.
“It’s a little bit better space than anywhere we have in our sports park for stuff like that,” Hickman said.
Some tickets remain available for the new premium seating areas, which is only accessible to season-ticket members.
“We’re ecstatic,” Hickman said. “It looks great, and I think our fanbase is going to love it when they see it.”