Georgia fans adjusting to Sanford Stadium changes

ATHENS – Like everything new, the debut of the new south-side improvements at Sanford Stadium was met with mixed reviews.

There were more than a few complaints about Gillis Bridge being closed to pregame pedestrian traffic, especially to those who apparently didn’t get the memo about all the changes. But those experiencing for the first time the new stadium entrances, widened concourses and expanded restroom and concession facilities were thrilled.

“Once I get up all these stairs, I’ll let you know,” joked Harry Whitt, an Athens resident who sits in Section 134 on the south side. “But seriously, it’s nice that they don’t have so many people out here on the road (Sanford Drive). The bathrooms really did need upgrading, and the concessions were not too good, either, so all that is a lot nicer.”

The biggest complaint came from fans who wanted to access Gillis Bridge to be able the watch the “Dawg Walk” through the Tate Center parking lot down below. Many of those fans had tickets to the game, but entry wasn’t allowed through the new gates 1 and 9 at the either of the bridge until 4 p.m. The Dawg Walk took place at 3:45 p.m., which created a glut of spectators at either end of the bridge with either no view of the proceedings below or an extremely obstructed one.

“I knew everybody had to have tickets to get in; I just thought they were using as a technique to control the amount of people on the bridge,” said Jeff Kellar of Watkinsville, who was straining to see the players’ game-day procession tradition with his 8-year-son Britt from just outside Gate 9 on the south end of the bridge. “I think cramming all the people down there (in the Tate parking lot) is going to be a problem. I’m not happy about it. I’ve already left Josh Brooks a message.”

Brooks is Georgia’s athletic director. Kellar said he has had season tickets since 1995, but has been attending the Bulldogs’ games “all my life.”

UGA officials said there simply was no way to keep the bridge open to the general public for the Dawg Walk. Matt Brachowski, UGA associate athletic director for internal operations, and several other senior administrators were on the bridge when the gates opened and fans poured in the new gates at 4:01 p.m. Saturday’s kickoff against Tennessee-Martin was at 6 p.m.

“It’s just a matter of crowd control and security of the stadium,” Brachowski said. “We knew this would come up when we were first discussing the changes.”

The south-side improvements were the first phase of a $68.5 million improvement project expanded the 100 concourse and added hundreds of toilets, new concession areas and other amenities, primarily in the southwest corner of the 94-year-old stadium.

Phase II of the construction project will get underway immediately after the Bulldogs’ Nov. 11 home game against Ole Miss, their last of the season. That phase will build on top of the lower-level construction and add a new press box and other game-operation spaces that will connect with the South’s 300 upper-level section.