Seating at KU’s revamped football stadium to shrink by a few thousand seats; other updates on Gateway Project

photo by: University of Kansas/HNTB

This rendering shows the most recent design for a renovated David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. The rendering also shows some possibilities for ancillary development on the east side of the stadium, although KU is still awaiting proposals from developers on that portion of the project.

Seating at the University of Kansas’ revamped football stadium likely will shrink by at least 5,000 seats when the facility opens in 2025, but KU’s athletic director promised year-round excitement levels from the site will grow.

Members of Downtown Lawrence Inc. on Wednesday morning received an update from Athletic Director Travis Goff on the $448 million renovation of David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium at 11th and Mississippi streets.

When the stadium opens in August 2025, Goff said the capacity will be in the low 40,000-seat range, down from a listed capacity of 47,233 currently.

“Whether that’s 40,624 or 42,000, we will see what happens there,” Goff told a crowd at Maceli’s Banquet Hall.

The stadium will have the capacity to expand in the future — even above that 47,000-seat mark — if KU decides to renovate the east side of the stadium. As a reminder, the nearly $500 million project currently underway is largely leaving the east stands untouched, while completely rebuilding the west side and adding a conference center to the north bowl of the stadium.

However, KU is not making any firm commitments to remodel or refurbish the east side of the stadium. Goff told the crowd that decision involves finding a private development partner interested in building amenities and mixed uses at the site.

As the Journal-World reported in March, KU leaders now believe retailers, restaurants and other amenities envisioned for the eastern edge of the football stadium site are likely to develop more slowly than once expected. Higher interest rates, the type charged by lenders, have caused the handful of private developers considering the project to become less aggressive, Chancellor Douglas Girod told the Journal-World last month.

KU is still hopeful that a hotel will be built in the next couple of years to complement the conference center component of the stadium. But on Wednesday, Goff said it wasn’t yet possible to commit to a phase II renovation that would improve the east side of the stadium.

“It is unknown as it stands,” Goff said of a potential timeline.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

KU Athletic Director Travis Goff spoke at the Downtown Lawrence Inc. annual meeting on April 17, 2024.

Goff said KU, in some ways, is “grateful” that the second phase of renovations won’t shortly follow after the first. Moving into the new stadium will be a “Herculean” effort, and he also said the passage of time would help KU, the community and private developers produce a “better and more focused solution” for the overall project, which KU is billing as the Gateway Project.

“And, by the way, we can’t afford it yet,” Goff said of another reason a timeline for the project hasn’t emerged.

Goff said the decision to have the stadium’s capacity in the low 40,000-range largely was dictated by design considerations, with one of the largest being that all the seats on the west side will be chair-back seats rather than bleacher seats. That reduces the number of people you can get in the space, but will make the viewing experience better. Other considerations involved sight lines, Goff said.

“It is important to do the west (side) and north (side) right, in terms of first-class fan experience, on top of the field, no bad seat in the venue,” Goff said in a brief interview with the Journal-World.

The new capacity numbers, though, will give Lawrence merchants and others who rely on KU gameday traffic something to think about. At the low 40,000-seat range, the new stadium likely will be less than the 45,888 average per-game attendance that KU posted last season. It also may be below the approximately 43,000 average attendance in 2022. But the revamped stadium would be well above the approximately 29,000 average attendance mark KU has posted during the last five years, according to the college football website D1.ticker that tracks attendance trends.

In other words, the smaller stadium may mean smaller crowds than the recent past, but it also could make it much less likely that KU football ever returns to the days when half the stadium was empty.

Goff also believes KU will find many uses for the stadium and the connected conference center that go beyond football. The conference center will feature a large, wide-open room with 30-foot tall ceilings that could accommodate banquet-style seating for 1,000, which KU leaders have said is lacking in the community and holding the city back from landing larger events.

But Goff told the Journal-World that entertainment events also could be part of the schedule for the stadium. When asked whether the stadium might start hosting concerts in the future, Goff said “we think it is in the realm of possibility.”

Goff said KU is thinking both big and small about potential uses.

“You can think about wedding receptions, you can think about the concert, music performance piece of things,” Goff said. “Certainly anything would be done in partnership with the community and making sure it fits. But there is a space for just about anyone and anything in this development.”

KU leaders feel like they have taken a big step in figuring out those potential uses by selecting the Oak View Group as the private entity that will operate the stadium and conference center on a day-to-day basis, and also will be the food and beverage provider for all KU Athletics facilities.

The Denver-based company provides services to stadiums, convention centers, arenas, amphitheaters and other such venues. Its website shows that it has contracts locally with the Overland Park Convention Center and the Stormont Vail Events Center in Topeka. More broadly, it lists contracts with Citizens Bank Park, home to the Philadelphia Phillies; Neyland Stadium, home to the University of Tennessee football program; and Chicago’s Navy Pier entertainment district, among others.

“I think they have a great experience and track record of understanding what multi-use can mean,” Goff said.

On another topic, Goff also used Wednesday’s event to thank the crowd — made up largely of small downtown business owners — for their understanding in KU’s decision to move home football games next season from Lawrence to Arrowhead Stadium and Children’s Mercy Park in the Kansas City metro area due to construction at KU’s stadium.

Goff said KU was fully planning to play games at the Lawrence stadium when the project was announced last year. But he said concerns ranging from fan experience to safety issues began to become clearer as construction crews began their work to modify the site. He said university leaders saw that the most prudent course would be a unique season that Goff labeled the “fall of sacrifice.”

Goff told the Journal-World that KU would work to come up with new events and promotions to bring people to Lawrence on game days and for an extended weekend.

“How can we make sure Lawrence is still the hub and the launch point for the games in Kansas City?” Goff said of the effort. “We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to get visitors into Lawrence Thursday into Friday and overnight as much as possible.”

Goff also said KU intends to invest heavily in busing for students who want to attend the games in Kansas City, and he said the university is exploring busing options for nonstudents who want to catch a ride from Lawrence to the game.

But Goff also cautioned that KU’s ability to do as much as it would like in terms of events and other attractions would be challenged by the timing of games, which is set by television networks and usually is only known a couple of weeks in advance.

“The commitment is for us to be a more engaged strategic partner for Lawrence this fall,” Goff said. “I know we are going to do some new things, and I think we will do some things that have a chance to stick when we are back playing our games in the fall of 2025 right here in Lawrence.”


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