A temporary chain-link fence protected by a temporary employee blocks the main, west-end entrance into Husky Stadium.
On a recent sunny afternoon, Blake Gunderson tracked down two Huskies fans who had sneaked past the fence and into the renovated $280 million facility. He escorted them out, then returned to his folding chair next to the stadium’s entrance adjacent to Mountlake Boulevard.
A 2013 graduate of Todd Beamer High in Federal Way, Gunderson wears aviator sunglasses and a white polo shirt tucked into crisp khakis. He plans to enlist in the Air Force, but his 12-hour shifts as a security guard this summer have often involved him politely telling the hundreds of daily gawkers who stare, wide-eyed, past him that, no, sorry, you can’t go in. The stadium’s not yet open, with construction crews working around the clock on the finishing touches of the 22-month project.
So no, sorry, the official unveiling of new Husky Stadium isn’t until 5 p.m. Saturday, two hours before the Washington Huskies kick off the 2013 football season against 19th-ranked Boise State in a nationally televised broadcast.
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Until Saturday, new Husky Stadium is open only for private tours with University of Washington sponsors, boosters and the media. Everyone else? Well, Gunderson is allowed to escort folks about 25 yards past the fence, toward an opening in the concourse that offers a sneak peek of the picturesque views of Lake Washington. It’s a tease, like putting an unwrapped present in front of a child weeks before Christmas.
“This,” Gunderson told a group of gawkers, “is going to be a gem when it opens.”
“We knew it would be a grind down to the end,” UW assistant athletic director Carter Henderson said.
The frantic final weeks have added intrigue for fans eager to get their first glimpse at the stadium first built in 1920 for $600,000. The cost this time will be $280 million, $30 million more than the original budget.
Inside the stadium last week, two workers in bright orange T-shirts, strapped to a harness while standing on an extended catwalk, leaned out over the edge some 50 feet above the southwest stands and tightened a wire that stretched just behind the west end zone.
Others were installing graphics around the main level, facing toward the field, that read “Bow Down” and “Dawg Pack” in purple and gold. At the same time, two painters put a final coat of white paint on the bottom of the new high-definition video board behind the east end zone.
The work is indeed ongoing, and might be right until the gates open Saturday, but UW athletic director Scott Woodward is confident the work — and the price tag — will be well worth it when it’s fully completed.
“I still haven’t exhaled,” Woodward said. “And until we play a game, until we get going, I’m not going to.”
The stadium’s final tab spiked to about $280 million with add-ons the UW chose. Of the extra cost, $11 million was spent building the UW Sports Medicine Clinic, which is part of new south side stands. Other upgrades included the “Touchdown Terrace” field-level suites behind the east end zone, the remodeling of the Don James Center and improved audio/video equipment.
Washington is scheduled to pay a little more than $10 million in debt service in 2013-14 for the stadium; that figure is budgeted to jump to $14.5 million the next year.
Notably, the athletic department’s net operating income is projected to be $19.7 million for this coming school year, up from $7.7 million this past year.
Tickets are virtually gone for the grand reopening Saturday against Boise State. Tickets on the secondary market range from $110 for a student ticket to $4,720 for a four-person patio suite.
Henderson is encouraging fans to arrive at the gates at 5 p.m. or earlier Saturday. The first 20,000 fans will receive a coin commemorating the stadium’s reopening, and there will be a poster giveaway after the game.
The UW’s marketing team has worked on a video presentation and other welcome-back events. Details of those plans, like the stadium’s main entrance, are being tightly guarded, but Henderson promised the fan experience will be special.
Come Saturday evening, everyone will finally get to see the new Husky Stadium. For many, it will be Christmas in August.
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @a_jude.