University of Kansas

Why a renovation to KU football’s Memorial Stadium isn’t likely to begin soon

Les Miles led his KU Jayhawks onto the football field for the first time at Saturday’s Late Night Under the Lights

Les Miles and the Jayhawks put KU football on display at the spring game at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence.
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Les Miles and the Jayhawks put KU football on display at the spring game at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence.

Though a renovation of Memorial Stadium remains high on Kansas Athletics’ priority list, the execution of that remains far into the future, athletic director Jeff Long said Thursday.

Long addressed the topic during a KU Athletics board meeting on campus, explaining that the department was working to create a “master plan”; the purpose would be helping KU prepare for facility improvements down the road while also drafting out what a Memorial Stadium renovation might look like.

This, then, would be considered the infancy of any potential football stadium undertaking. Long told The Star that KU Athletics recently submitted a “request for quotation” from architects for the master plan work, with eight firms responding. Long said that list had been narrowed to “three or four” candidates, with on-campus interviews starting soon.

Once KU selects an architecture firm, it can begin crafting its master plan, coming up with a guide for five, 10 and even 20 years down the road so that the department can prioritize its needs while also organizing future fund-raising goals.

“It won’t be a quick process,” Long said of coming up with that master plan. “I anticipate it’ll take a year or more to work through that.”

Long was asked Thursday if he had a particular timeline in mind for Memorial Stadium renovations.

“Candidly, I don’t,” Long told The Star. “The process will lead us to the decision on when we could start something with our stadium. It’s really that process that will dictate and reveal to us what we can do and how we can do it and how quickly we can do it.”

This starting point of a potential renovation reboot comes less than two years after previous athletic director Sheahon Zenger originally announced a proposed $350 million project, with most of that money earmarked for football. That included renderings — put together by HNTB of Kansas City — that gave visions of $170 million worth of renovations to the south end zone and west side of the stadium before a separate $130 million project improving the north and east sides.

The stated goal, according to Zenger, for completing the renovation was “to use a phased approach spanning 3-5 years,” according to an email he sent to donors.

It all never came to fruition, sidetracked by KU football’s lack of success, then Zenger’s subsequent firing in May 2018.

Long, who will celebrate his one-year anniversary with KU on Aug. 1, said it was important to properly evaluate what was needed with Memorial Stadium before taking any action. Another objective, he said, would be to “look outside the box” in terms of opportunities for an improved facility.

“I don’t think it makes fiscal sense any more to build a stadium that really sits empty other than six or seven times a year,” Long said. “We’re looking for flexibility. We’re looking for other events that we can host in there to generate revenue for our program and for our community, because it is an economic growth piece not only for our campus, but for the community of Lawrence and the state of Kansas.”

There are other questions to answer as well: What types of seating are fans interested in? And how will the school finance any potential construction?

That all remains down the line for now. At this point, Long seems content to gather more information.

“We really need to dig in deep,” Long said, “on what our fans are looking for.”

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Jesse Newell — he’s won an EPPY for best sports blog and previously has been named top beat writer in his circulation by AP’s Sports Editors — has covered KU sports since 2008. His interest in sports analytics comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters each year.

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