It’s a fine line between opulent and ostentatious, and perhaps the greatest triumph of the new Husky Stadium rebuild is that they managed to stay on the tasteful side of that delicate equation.
In the never-ending arms race that now drives college football, there seems to be an insatiable desire to turn all these proliferating new facilities into pleasure palaces of Roman Empire-style excess.
But enough about the University of Oregon. The Huskies wisely backed off from the inclination to try to out-Phil Knight Phil Knight — a decision that may have been borne of financial reality as much as philosophy. They stuck to the sufficiently noble goal of turning out a facility that, in the words of athletic director Scott Woodward, “fits who we are as far as the University of Washington and the Northwest and our sensibilities.”
And that doesn’t seem to have required Brazilian wood, Ferrari leather, or rugs imported from Nepal.
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“Something is going to have to give,’’ said Woodward, talking about the nationwide explosion of ever-more-grandiose football facilities, a trend that has hit the Pac-12 with a vengeance.
“It gets to the point of being obscene, and that’s what we didn’t want to be. We wanted to be good, but not obscene.”
That’s not to say there aren’t some garish amenities designed to satisfy the lavish desires of their most well-heeled patrons (i.e., the ones willing to shell out tens of thousands for the suites that help drive the project to economic feasibility).
But after a two-hour tour of the place on Wednesday, I came away more impressed with the small touches and nuances than the grand flourishes (though those are certain to wow the Husky faithful who will fill the stadium to its new 70,138 capacity for the great unveiling on Saturday night).
I’m talking about the slanted outline of a “W” that hangs in the foyer of the west entrance, backed by shimmering purple and gold circles. I’m talking about the vintage benches that were salvaged from the old stadium and re-purposed as a backdrop on the outdoor event deck in the west end. I’m talking about the small TVs in the elevators that will make the packed rides more enjoyable.
Woodward said he can’t name a favorite feature, because it would be like picking a favorite child. He spoke of the “wow” factor that hits him frequently as he takes a gander at, say, the weight room, or a premium seating area, or the recruiting lounge.
“I really love everything about it,’’ he said.
On Wednesday, it was something as simple as the robust fidelity of the sound system as a Jackson Browne song blared that struck the AD. Woodward said he turned to associate athletic director Chip Lydum, one of the project overseers, and joked, “Chip, the neighbors are going to complain. Keep it down, bro.”
Woodward added, “That gave me a wow.”
It helps, of course, that even after the 92-year-old facility was gutted and workers essentially started over from scratch, they still had the lake and the mountains. So the visuals remain stunning, maybe the best in the land when it comes to a stadium backdrop. It’s always nice to have nature on your side.
For their $280.6-million price tag, the Huskies got plenty of bang, including a suitably luxurious football operations building, complete with a fireplace in Steve Sarkisian’s office, three hydrotherapy pools, and the roomy, well-appointed, cutting-edge locker room that is de rigueur in enticing recruits.
When our group trooped through, many Husky players were lounging on giant pillows, some with blankets tossed over them as they chatted or manned their handheld electronic devices during some down time.
As workers put the finishing touches on the stadium — we were assured the place will be “99.5 percent” complete by game day, and what isn’t won’t be visible — we got the grand tour. I couldn’t help but notice that when we started, the scoreboard read, UW 31, Boise State 6, at the end of the third quarter. But by the time we emerged, that bit of wishful thinking had been erased, and it was 0-0.
It was impossible not to be impressed with the airy concourses (some concession stands already had their Snickers and Sour Patch Kids out on display), the homages to Husky football tradition that are sprinkled in various forms around the stadium, and, especially, the intimacy that resulted from taking out the track.
I wish they hadn’t had to move the student section to the end zone, but Woodward said it was a financial necessity to offer those front-and-center seats to boosters capable of paying premium prices.
Woodward was frank in acknowledging that universities will continue to try to grab a recruiting edge by throwing money at opulent — and yes, ostentatious — facility upgrades. At least, they will until the revenue stream from mega-television deals dries up, which doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.
“As long as these broadcasters are paying these crazy numbers for live product and live content, I don’t know when it’s going to stop … just keeps going up,’’ Woodward said. “They’re going to figure out ways to spend the money in Tuscaloosa, or Columbus, or Austin … or in Seattle, frankly.”
Asked how the Huskies straddled the fine line between being tasteful and tawdry, Woodward referenced the famous quote of Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart regarding pornography: “You just know it when you see it.”
He added, “Gauche, over-the-top, gilding the lily — I don’t think you would say that in any of this about our project.”
Woodward wouldn’t be drawn into any comparison with the latest ornament from Oregon — their $68-million football operations complex.
“I think it’s a gorgeous project, and they’ve done an incredible job,’’ he said. “It works for them; it obviously is working for them, with four BCS games in a row.
“I love ours. I love the sensibility of ours. I love the efficiency of ours … I love how it works and how it flows. I love my baby. I love this one.”
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.