Amid $68.5M construction project, Sanford Stadium will be ready for opener

Georgia begins season Sept. 2 against Tennessee-Martin
Associate AD for capital projects Tanner Stines speaks to reporters at the west entrance of the South 100 Concourse at Sanford Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (Photo by Chip Towers/AJC)

Credit: Chip Towers/AJC

Credit: Chip Towers/AJC

Associate AD for capital projects Tanner Stines speaks to reporters at the west entrance of the South 100 Concourse at Sanford Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (Photo by Chip Towers/AJC)

ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs will be completely open for business and ready to serve their fans at Sanford Stadium when the seasons starts Sept. 2. But there will be some scrambling going on the next two weeks to get things fully in order.

UGA Athletics on Thursday conducted a media tour of the south side of the Bulldogs’ 94-year-old stadium to provide a sneak peak of Phase I of the ongoing $68.5 million improvement project. At lunchtime Thursday, the entire south side of the 92,746-seat facility remained an active construction site. But Tanner Stines, Georgia’s associate athletic director for facility operations and capital projects, assured one and all that the place will be a fully functioning sports arena by the time the Bulldogs kick off against Tennessee-Martin at 6 p.m. three Saturdays from now.

“Game week we might be painting columns ourselves, but we’ll be ready,” Stines said. “The stadium is far from being completed, but we could clean it up and be ready to host a game by next week.”

What Georgia has been able to do since the end of last season is pretty impressive. They’ve blown out the concourses on the lower levels of the south side of the stadium to make them more than twice their previous size. The South 100 Concourse, as it’s known, had been 9 feet wide since the stadium was first built between 1928-29. Now those hallways are more than 21 feet wide, surrounded by walls adorned with colorful graphics documenting Georgia football’s present and past accomplishments.

What made those expansions possible was the enormous concession and restrooms plaza built in the southwest corner of the stadium. There used to be a wooded area and precipitous drop down to Tanyard Creek, which actually runs underneath Dooley Field and out the east side of the stadium via a large, underground culvert. That corner has been filled in by tons and tons of concrete. Stines could not immediately recite how many yards of cement have been poured there, but he said “probably two-thirds” of the construction budget has gone into the acquiring and installing concrete.

Stines added that the project has been closely monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency – whose state headquarters are located only about a mile away – to ensure that rain wash and construction materials don’t enter the creek.

Atop all that new material is the “largest women’s restroom ever built,” Stines said, apparently not joking. Amassed on the periphery of an expansive concessions plaza just inside the new Gate 9 entry point at the south end of the bridge, there will be at least 80 stalls in that one restroom. The new facilities will be monitored by at least three attendants, who will be able direct spectators to available spaces and attend to fans’ needs. New restrooms also have been added on the previously little-used “50 Concourse.”

Those areas are located just a short distance up from Gillis Bridge. That’s where perhaps the most notable changes will be taking place. The bridge no longer will be open to general public access on game days. Instead, it will close to pedestrian and traffic access at 7 p.m. Friday on home-game weekends. Gates 1 and 9 now will be located at each end of the bridge and can be accessed only by ticketed spectators. However, fans can access the stadium through those two entry points regardless of seat location.

“I imagine most people will,” Stines said, standing in the middle of the bridge. “There will be a lot happening here on game days.”

Spectators no longer will be able to access the bridge from the Tate Student Center. However, they will be able to enter through Gate 10 underneath the bridge and next to the parking lot and use elevators or a back stairway to reach the plaza.

Field Street, which currently is closed, will be reopened for tailgating for games. That is an area where longtime donors with a “Parking Pass 1″ have been tailgating for decades.

Phase 2 of the project is scheduled to get started in mid-November after the Bulldogs will have played their last home game. The final two regular-season games against Tennessee and Georgia Tech will be played on the road.

The final stage will see the upper concourses extended west toward end zone video board. That will bowl in the west end of Sanford every so slighty and provide a press box and additional game-day operations seating and accommodations.

Stines said that the new additions are not expected to expand the seating capacity of the stadium, but admitted that they can’t be completely sure until entire project is completed.

“We’ll just have to wait until we have everybody in here and count,” Stines said.

But expanding capacity never was the objective of the project. For Athletic Director Josh Brooks, who came up through the operations side of the business, it was all about better serving spectators and giving them a better “fan experience” on game days.

“A.D. Brooks comes down here at least once a week just to walk the concourses,” Stines said. “This project is really important to him.”

In a couple of more weeks, it will be important to Georgia fans as well.