The home stretch

Published: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 1:36 a.m.

Started more than a year ago, a multimillion dollar addition to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is on target to open for this year's football season.

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After fastening a steel beam, a construction worker cradles his way off the structure which stands about 15 feet at the expansion project for Ben Hill Griffen Stadium.

Rob C. Witzel / The Gainesville Sun

It's not a moment too soon since the vast majority of the project's additional seating - about 5,000 seats including space in the new skybox - has been presold.

About 70 percent of the work is complete on the towering addition to the building's west side.

Most of the structure itself is in place with workers doing construction inside and installing the roof and windows. Landscaping also needs to be added in front of the addition on the west side of North-South Drive. About 160 people are working on the project.

"We're real pleased with the progress," said Bob Grace, project executive for contractor Turner-PPI. "Everything is still tracking for completion before the first game. It should be fully serviceable."

The Gators open the season Aug. 30 against San Jose State.

Greg McGarity, associate athletic director for the University Athletic Association, said fans won't have to put up with another year of construction.

"We've been through two years of it where they've had to walk through asphalt and dirt and all that stuff. We'll be past that," he said.

The finished project will add to the University of Florida's prestige, could increase revenues and create more interest in donations to UF from alumni as well as more viewing opportunities for fans, university officials have said.

More than half of the additional seats will be open-area seating similar to the stadium's Touchdown Terrace, McGarity said. Another 1,200 seats will be skybox seating, with the remaining seats divided among an expanded press box renovation, "Bull Gator" seats and seating for disabled people.

Estimates are that seating in the skybox addition will generate about $2 million a year in revenue for the UAA.

To accommodate construction, North-South Drive had to be rerouted around the location. Three large live oak trees, which stood for an estimated 40 to 70 years, also were cut down to make room for the skybox. Last year, the construction schedule was forced to accommodate Gator home football games.

Construction costs at the site are estimated at about $50 million with approximately $5 million more in permitting fees and design costs.

Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or fisherl@

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