Duke officially approves improvements to Wallace Wade Stadium, but will fans come?

An artist’s rendering of upgrades to Wallace Wade Football Stadium at Duke University.
An artist’s rendering of upgrades to Wallace Wade Football Stadium at Duke University. Duke University

The game time for Duke football’s final home game against Wake Forest hasn’t been set yet, so athletics director Kevin White can’t say precisely what time the bulldozers will move into Wallace Wade Stadium to begin removing the track.

“It could be in the middle of the night,” he said, only half-kidding.

After years of planning, renovations to Wallace Wade are finally set in stone. White announced Wednesday that the University’s Board of Trustees approved design and granted construction authorization for the three projects: building a new tower that will house premium seating and luxury suites, a new video board in the south end zone and concourse enhancements on the North and West gate entrances. Lowering the field level and removing the track were previously approved by the Board in the Spring.

“They’re going to be very Duke-like,” White said. “Like a lot of our facilities on this campus, we may not have the largest, but what we have is going to be really, really, really well done.

“It will be a boutique college football facility,” White continued. “It’s going to be terrific. It’s going to fit Duke really well. I don’t think we need to emulate anybody else. I think we need to figure out what works best at Duke.”

“Cameron-like” was another phrase White used to describe the football stadium’s potential.

The track will be gone by the beginning on the 2015 football season, and a few rows of seats will be added closer to field level. Next season, though, will be a “transitional” year, said Mike Cragg, Duke’s deputy athletic director who oversees facilities and planning.

“There will be a lot of construction going on during the 2015 season,” he said. “It is a two-year process.”

Construction on the tower will likely start in January, and the goal will be for it to be ready for the start of the 2016 season. It will be five stories, with six different concession booths and restrooms on the main concourse level (the number of restrooms in the stadium will increase from 184 to 495). The second floor will have a dining room that seats 300, exterior club space and six luxury suites. There will be 15 more suites on the third level, as well as the president’s box, and the top two levels will be for coaches and media.

The new LED video board in the end zone will be high-definition with a screen 42 feet high by 75.6 feet wide for 3,175 square feet – more than doubling the size of the current video board. It will be comparable to those in new NFL stadiums, Cragg said. That’s all a part of enhancing the game day experience in attempt to draw more fans.

“That experience plays into why people choose to come. We’re fighting for that entertainment dollar,” Cragg said. “That’s what we’re competing against. We’re competing against television and staying at home.”

Duke averaged 30,405 fans for home games in 2013, when the Blue Devils won 10 games for the first time in school history. That was down 8 percent from 2012, when the team went 6-6 in the regular season, qualifying for its first bowl game since 1994.

Attendance has been worse this season through three home games. Duke has averaged 25,538 fans this year. And the announced attendance of 20,197 for last weekend’s Tulane game was the second-lowest of the seven years David Cutcliffe has been at Duke (the Blue Devils drew 18,747 for Georgia Tech on Nov. 19, 2011 corrected 9/25. 11:45 a.m.). Wallace Wade’s capacity is 33,941.

“We know what our core group is, we know what our core crowd is,” White said. “But we’ve had – there’s no other way to candy-coat it – we’ve had six decades of not very good football. And, so we’re building our support base.

“We’re getting a little aspirational about ways we might better interact and interface with fans. That’s a part of this process.”

Capacity will hold steady through 2015, when construction will take away some seats, Cragg said. The tower will add about 2,000 seats, and capacity will be closer to 40,000 when the two-year construction phase is done.

Concourse improvements will include nine new sections of blue seats – which will match the set installed on the television side this year – replacing existing bleachers. Duke is studying WiFi connectively enhancements and plans to enhance concession offerings. One step White does not envision Duke taking is offering alcohol at those concession stands. There will be alcohol available in the luxury suits, he said.

All of the improvements are funded through private donations. White said the department is “going to be well over $100 million here very, very quickly,” and anticipates being close to the $250 million goal outlined in the university-wide Duke Forward fundraising campaign “in the next couple of months.”

“There are some really good indicators that we’re going to be that close,” he said. “Then we’re going to have about 2.5 years left in the campaign, so we’ve got the ability to run past the $250 million goal to something larger.”

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