The University of Utah has cut the ribbon on an $80m (£57.8m/€68m) expansion project which it states will make Rice-Eccles Stadium a “true differentiator” for its college football programme.

The Ken Garff Red Zone encloses the south end of Rice-Eccles Stadium, provides brand-new premium seating experiences, team locker room and game-day amenities, while also increasing the seating capacity by 4,500 to 51,444.

In June 2019, the University appointed Populous to design the south end zone expansion of Rice-Eccles Stadium. The construction intended to connect the east and west sides for a closed-bowl, 360-degree concourse.

University of Utah athletics director, Mark Harlan, said: “It seems like a short two-and-a-half years ago when we went through the approval process, and now we are here. They say when you build it, they will come. But they have already been coming to Rice-Eccles Stadium. We have been sold out for every game since 2010. This allows 4,500 more people to join the party.”

The Garff family’s $21.5m donation served as the lead gift for the project and stands as the largest single donation in Utah Athletics history. August 2021 was the intended delivery date when Populous was appointed and incoming University president, Taylor Randall, praised the project team’s work in keeping to this deadline.

“I want to thank Mark Harlan and his team, and the team at Layton Construction,” Randall said. “They put up this place in a pandemic. Think about the supply-chain issues, the cost issues we’ve had, and the need to preserve people’s health. Thank you to all of them.

“What you are staring at with this new facility is $41m in donations. You’re staring at an additional $10m in ticket sales. This will help our football program to thrive and it will become even more elite than it is now.”

The addition of both premium and non-premium seating includes suite, loge box, ledge, club and premium terrace seating, and an increased number of bench seats. The Layton Field Club and Diglisic Lounge complement the premium spaces in the Ken Garff Red Zone.

The team of planners, designers and contractors including Populous, VCBO Architecture and Layton Construction are completing final touches on the project, which will host its first game when the University of Utah Utes take on Weber State Wildcats to open the 2021 football season on September 2.

Randall added: “This is a place of community, a place where, when the Utes are up by 75, you’d still want to be there and you wouldn’t want to go home early. And this is that place. This is a true differentiator for our football program.”

Image: University of Utah