VERMILLION, S.D.—There was a window prior to the initial renovation countdown for the DakotaDome where those involved in its dramatic reconstruction could use the term “kickoff” as a way of expressing how the first major phase of the project was soon to be officially underway.
Now daily practices signify a real kickoff is coming, this time on the field against preseason No. 25 Montana on Aug. 31 at 2 p.m.
On that first Saturday, many in the crowd will be getting their first look at this centerpiece of the Coyote athletic department since the transformation process began. The west side of the Dome will look dramatically different than it did for USD’s last home game last fall.
In its place will be an evolving structure that will be changing from week to week. Fewer seats – the capacity of the Dome for 2019 will be 5,500 and go up to 9,037 in 2020 – will be part of the challenge for some single-game ticket-buyers, but everybody who gets in will get a glimpse of the future unfolding at every home game.
“I think the inconveniences are more understood, valued and accepted when you can actually see what is happening,” South Dakota Athletic Director David Herbster said. “Being inconvenienced with no understanding of why can be difficult to process and accept. But from where we’re at right now, people will come in and know and understand that the Dome renovations are going on.”
The $26.3 million in improvements includes new locker rooms and meeting facilities for the football team, two new entrances on the west side, as well as permanent seating that includes 10 suites and 15 loge boxes. It should be completed by the summer of 2020. The first home game of 2020 is a Valley-opening tilt with Missouri State on Sept. 19.
Much of the framework for the new west side is completed. The “stadia” (the framework where the new seating will be located) is expected to be in place by the Aug. 31 contest with Montana. Construction will continue as the season goes on with much of it concentrated on the football locker rooms, offices and meeting rooms that will be located under the permanent seating.
“Any project has its challenges, particularly with a renovation,” said Corey Jenkins, senior associate athletic director for facilities and operations. “You can find some surprises along the way. But it’s been a credit to the whole team for this project that they’ve been tackling everything that comes along in stride and on time as much as humanly possible.”
Those curious about a sneak peak of how it is going to work in 2019 can see the inside of the Dome during USD’s Coyote Block Party from 4-7 p.m. this Saturday, one week before the opener. The event, the first of its kind, will run in conjunction with this year’s season ticket holder festivities.
The Block Party will include autograph sessions with Coyote student-athletes, season tickets for sale, a chance to hear from Herbster as well as Coyote Football Coach Bob Nielson, and an exhibition volleyball match vs. Minnesota State. But it will also include the opportunity to view the ongoing construction.
Those attending will see the west side of the facility and where the 15 loges and 10 suites will be located. The unobstructed view from near the field will offer a unique viewing experience. Conventionally, premium seating comes at the expense of premium viewing at most college football venues. USD will be changing that beginning in 2020.
“People are definitely going to be drawn to how close they’re going to be to the field,” said Andy Carr, associate AD for development. “Around the country at some of the bigger stadiums you’re starting to see field-level suites in the end zones, but you’re not seeing premium seating on the home side of the field right down by the players. You look at our design and where the boxes are, it’s really going to set this project apart from a lot of others.”
Carr is quick to add that interest is high in the suites and loges for 2020. Those considering it an option a year from now might want to lock down those spaces quickly. The same goes for 2019 in the sense that fewer seats means there are going to be fewer of them available, especially for fans wanting single-game tickets. Acting quickly on both issues will eliminate suspense.
“Things are going well,” Carr said of the 2020 campaign for premium seating. “They’re not sold out but we’re getting there. We want to make that point – there is still opportunity there, but don’t wait. They’re moving fast and people are very interested in the product.”
Closer yet to the action will be the football players and coaches themselves. Understandably, the loges and suites for the 2020 season are a long way off for a program getting ready to play Montana. And as much as the fans are dealing with a one-time only experience in 2019, the football team is enthusiastically sharing the challenge of dealing with something different for the upcoming season.
“I appreciate the patience of our football program right now,” Jenkins said. “It’s the same with our other sports with what we’re having to work with through this ongoing project. It’s a real testament to all our coaches for understanding the long-term goals and the big picture. They’ve been really good to work with.”
Part of the reason for that is that the same kinds of things that fuel the fight for the administration is making its mark on the program itself.
“The excitement is building as you see what it’s going to look like,” Herbster said. “There’s a little bit of a ‘Whoa, that’s going to be really cool.’ I don’t think there’s going to be a college football setup like this in the whole country.”