New luxury seats at Byrd too tight Premium area must be rebuilt

November 01, 1991|By Mark Hyman | Mark Hyman,Sun Staff Correspondent

COLLEGE PARK -- Three months after unveiling a luxury section at Byrd Stadium, the University of Maryland has plans to renovate the premium seats extensively before next football season.

The improved section will offer theater-style seats, roving waiters and overhead heaters, perks incorporated into the original luxury area.

To that, university officials say they expect to add another amenity common to most high-priced seats, but inadvertently left out of the original Byrd Stadium plan: a place for fans to put their legs.

Marathon runners and some small children may be able to sit comfortably in the rows of red plastic chairs, for which TC customers pay $10,000 to reserve for 10 years. But most adults cannot, including Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger, who became aware of the problem when he tested the seats shortly after they had been bolted into place in September.

Geiger hadn't started his job at the university when the plans for the premium seats were drawn three years ago. But he accepted responsibility for the imperfect outcome.

"I plead guilty," he said of the decision. "I personally approved [the plan] at one point without knowing the consequences."

He said it was pointless to blame others for the design mistakes. "Who am I going to get mad at?" he said. "I chalk it off to one of those things you learn from."

Geiger would not estimate the cost of the changes and said an exact price couldn't be determined until the design was completed. The luxury seats were a component of a large stadium improvement package completed in September at a cost of about $10 million.

Funds to pay for the luxury-seat renovations could come from the athletic department's operating budget or from a building-fund campaign started two years ago to pay for renovations of athletic buildings, Geiger said.

Since the leg-room problem was discovered, university officials have been working to correct the problem with Hellmuth Obata & Kassabaum Inc., the Kansas City-based stadium architects who designed the luxury seats and also designed the new Baltimore Orioles ballpark.

Geiger said the university contributed to the decisions that skimped on leg room by pressing for as many premium seats as possible, a decision it hoped might generate more money from ticket sales.

In the first year, the dollars did not materialize. Of the 412 seats, only 130 were sold.

"We put a lot of pressure on the architects to get in as many seats as we possibly could," Geiger said last week. "This was a big sales tool. Unfortunately, I think we overkilled."

Said Rick Martin, an HOK vice president, and the principal architect for the Byrd Stadium project: "We were instructed to maximize the number of seats, to get as many in as we could, which we did."

The premium seats aren't for every Terps fan. In addition to the initial commitment of $1,000 per season for 10 years, buyers also must pay the price of individual game tickets and spend $1,200 a year to become members of the Terrapins sports booster club.

For their investment, they sit below the new five-story press box at the stadium in a section on the 50-yard line. Other perks include a seat with arms and a back (as opposed to metal benches, standard fare at Byrd Stadium), access to waiters who deliver hot dogs and other ballpark food to customers and overhead heaters that blow hot air on teeth-chattering Saturdays.

Haskell Smith, president of a Virginia financial company, purchased four for the first season. He said he didn't regret the decision.

"The seats are tighter than I would have expected, but I have no significant complaints," he said. "The basis of my contribution was to support the university, not the width of seats or legroom."

The luxury section is one component of $30 million face-lifting planned for the 41-year-old football horseshoe. In addition to the premium seats, the first stage included construction of the welcome center, restrooms and food stands and the resurfacing of the stadium's seating bowl. Future plans include a new football building and adding a second deck to one side of the stadium.

Although the design for the new premium seating section is not completed, Geiger said there might be about 100 fewer seats in the section next year.

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