Liberty University athletics director Jeff Barber stood outside his office Thursday afternoon, charcoal suit jacket slung over his shoulder, conducting his fifth media interview of the day about the opening of the renovated Williams Stadium.
He wasn’t necessarily exhausted, though.
“I’m just excited; I feel like I’m floating a little bit,” he said with a laugh.
Liberty hosts Savannah State Saturday night at 7 at the refurbished stadium, giving many fans their first up-close look at the 34,000-square-foot press tower that has replaced a smallish press box in existence for the stadium’s first 20 years. The project was delayed by a month, forcing Liberty to play its first home game last month at City Stadium.
Essentially, though, Branch & Associates, Inc., the main contractor for the building, crammed a 16-month project into nine months, a feat made even more impressive considering Lynchburg received its two biggest snowfalls in recent memory last winter, delaying much of the building’s foundation work.
“It’s giving Liberty people, Liberty fans, Liberty students and alumni something really to be proud of,” Barber said. “It’s something they can call home. It’s their stadium. It belongs to them.”
As of Thursday evening, work was still being conducted inside. Painters touched up walls. Movers brought furniture into the press level. Internet connections were tested so radio crews and local media would have ways to send out broadcasts, stories and blog posts. The last bit of carpeting and tiling was completed.
The biggest financial impact from the new facility will come from the addition of a club level for Flames Club members who donate $2,500 or more per year, and with the installation of 18 permanent luxury suites. All of have been sold at a price of $20,000 per year, and all money generated from suite rentals will go back into paying for the construction of the facility.
A quick tour of the five-floor building:
- The first floor is the concourse level, which features concession stands, restrooms and access to elevators and stairs. Before the tower was built, Liberty had only eight points of sale at the concession stands, leading to long lines and a logjam at the top of the stands. Now, there are two auxiliary concession stands at each end of the building, and a main concession stand in the middle of the concourse. Those three stands alone will give the stadium 40 points of sale.
Before, concessions only accepted cash. Now, MasterCard and Visa will be accepted as well, Barber said.
- The second floor is empty for now and is the headquarters for Branch & Associates’ operations. There are preliminary plans to turn the second floor into a restaurant for students to use during the week, but it won’t be complete for some time.
- The third floor is the club level, where Flames Club donors who contribute at least $2,500 per year will have access to a large atrium, along with high-scale concessions not offered in other parts of the building.
- The fourth floor is the suite level, and it is off limits to anyone without a ticket to one of the 18 luxury suites. All suites seat 16 — 12 outside and four inside — and feature flat-screen televisions, individual climate control, full kitchens, living-room furniture and Internet access.
- The fifth floor is the press level, home to working media, radio and television crews, game management, statisticians, public address announcers, security and the suites for Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr., and Barber.
The building compares favorably to other projects built in recent years at high-level Football Championship Subdivision schools. James Madison, the 2004 FCS national champion, is currently building a press facility that will host 13 luxury suites. Appalachian State, which won three straight national titles from 2005-07, opened its Appalachian Athletics Center in 2009 with 18 luxury seats.
“I think at the end of the season, I’ll be able to comment in the area of how much (the press tower) is going to do for us in recruiting, and the commitment that it shows is being made to our football program by our administration, and the future of our program,” Liberty coach Danny Rocco said. “Obviously, we’re putting ourselves on a track that’s going to allow us to be very attractive.”
When the school planned out the press tower, it did so with the future in mind. Considering the ever-changing landscape of college athletics — this summer alone, six Division I schools switched conference affiliations, and Brigham Young University chose to go independent in football — it was important for the school to construct a building that will be as useful 15 years down the road as it is now.
The press area is much larger than needed for the current media following. The visiting radio booths were constructed with big-school radio crews in mind. There’s plenty of room for extra television personnel to work if necessary.
“Who knows, maybe we host USC someday?” Barber said.
“Everything we try to do, we try to do long term. When we put in the lights for baseball, the foot candles are there so we can host through the Super Regionals. When we build a baseball stadium one day, we’ll build it so we can host Super Regionals. We don’t want to have to look back and say, ‘doggone it, we should have done this, that or the other.’
“So when we build things now, we’re building for the long term, not just short range.”
Read Lang’s blog at www.mynewsadvance.com and follow him on Twitter @ChrisLangLNA.