UF laying foundation for new football facility with baseball stadium complete
As the University Athletic Association prepares to unveil Florida Ballpark at Alfred A. McKethan Field next month, the foundation is already being laid for the football program's standalone complex at the site of the old baseball stadium.
For UF executive associate athletic director Chip Howard, who oversees operations and facilities, there’s no time for rest between projects.
“You know how it is in college athletics,” Howard told The Sun. “If you’re standing still, someone’s passing you.”
More than three decades have passed since McKethan Stadium was built, and Howard was on hand for the inaugural season in 1988. He started his UAA career the following year.
“My brother used to be an assistant baseball coach under Joe Arnold, so I was here for the first season in the Mac,” Howard recalled. “We haven’t opened up a new stadium in over 30 years for baseball, so our excitement is off the charts.
“We’ve got a really competitive team, a really good home schedule with 36 home dates. And just the ability to finally get fans in there after being around it during the construction all summer and all fall, it’s really rewarding for everybody here.”
The top-ranked Gators will open the season at home Feb. 19 with a three-game series against rival Miami. Florida’s new $65 million ballpark was completed in early August.
Howard said fans will appreciate the stadium’s wider concourses, enhanced concessions and multiple seating options, including a first row that’s significantly closer to home plate.
“McKethan was set up kind of far back,” Howard said. “The seats now are so much closer to the action and everything is just down so low, to the chagrin of some baseball coaches. But, from a fan perspective, it’s going to be really good.
“And if you want to be out of the sun, you can sit in shaded chairback seats towards the back. The club level is going to be something unique, as well as the free-flowing areas by the berms and food trucks. And you’ll never lose sight of a game with the 360-degree concourse.”
McKethan Stadium was demolished in late July to make way for the new $85 million James W. "Bill" Heavener Football Training Center. UF partnered with Parrish McCall and Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum (HOK) for construction of the 140,000-square foot facility.
“It’s coming along great,” Howard said of the standalone complex. “I started this project back in 2015 and to finally see it coming up out of the ground is really, really exciting, more for the football program. From a project standpoint, we’re pouring concrete.
“We did a ton of utility work and infrastructure work as soon as McKethan was finally demolished. And so that’s all finished. We’ve already started putting down some of the limerock for the parking lot. The foundations are being poured now and the slab on grade will go in probably around March 15. And then shortly thereafter, you’ll start seeing steel come up.”
In addition to the team's locker room, meeting rooms and coaches' offices, the Heavener Football Training Center will feature a cabana-style pool, an outdoor basketball court, a recording studio, a barbershop, lavish dining facilities, a rehydration room and a rehabilitation facility that includes hydrotherapy, indoor pools and more.
Howard held a meeting Monday with Florida coach Dan Mullen and his staff to update them on the new football facility.
“We gave them a presentation because we really didn’t have time during football season to do that,” Howard said. “To have all the staff members and coaches together, Dan leading the way, and to watch them as we walked through that whole facility, they were just shaking their heads. They couldn’t believe it, and these are coaches who have been everywhere.
“And so the excitement that builds in that room is now going to carry over into recruiting, it’s going to carry over into spring practice and it’s going to carry over into next fall as we get ready to move in there in the spring of ‘22. How the new facility now will mesh and meld right to the practice fields and the indoor is really the way it needed to be all along. This has been a long time coming.”
The standalone complex is part of the third phase of Florida's plan to revamp facilities. The first two phases included the Otis Hawkins Center at Farrior Hall, Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center, renovations to Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium and Florida Ballpark at Alfred A. McKethan Field.
"My favorite part of the process is the grand opening. It’s watching people walk in the door," Howard said. "I remember the Hawkins Center was a really cool day when we opened that up and watched the student-athletes walk in. Being in the O’Connell Center lobby when the fans walked in for the first time and seeing them have a much better experience coming to a basketball game. To me, that’s the rewarding part."