It has sat on the banks of the Tennessee River as Knoxville’s most recognizable landmark for years, but recently, Neyland Stadium has been the subject of a major renovation plan that was announced last year.
On Thursday, Tennessee Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer announced that the plans to renovate the stadium, which were set up under former Athletic Director John Currie in 2017, have been put on hold even though the funding is already available.
“We could not be more excited about the Neyland Stadium renovations going forward,” Fulmer said. “We are hopeful that it will happen sometime within the next year, no more than two.”
Almost a year to the day, on Nov. 1, 2017, John Currie announced plans, along with renderings of a $340 million renovation plan that included updates to the south end of the stadium, as well as enhancements for the fan experience. Construction was slated for Summer of 2018 for the first of two phases.
Despite having reached their goal of $50 million in funding for that first phase, as well as approval from the board and the State Building Commission, Fulmer believes that the athletic department needs to make sure they are financially viable before embarking on the project.
“At the very core, we must be prudent and responsible,” Fulmer said. “We need to take our time to look at all of our options. During that time, our goal is to find possibilities, discuss opportunities, discuss timing, design and potential partnerships to help us maximize Neyland Stadium for more than just 7 or 8 saturdays in the fall”
While the initial plans set in 2017 have been delayed, Fulmer says that the project itself has come a long way even before he was named to his current position in December of last year.
“The time and resources spent to this point have been very valuable and useful,” Fulmer said. “A lot of good work was done before I got here.”
The last major phase of renovation that Neyland Stadium underwent was prior to the 2009 season, when gate 21 and the west press box off of Phillip Fulmer Way were completely made over. A new JumboTron was also installed that year.
Although the stadium is most recognizable football, the south end of the facility also houses the Department of Audiology & Speech Pathology at South Stadium Hall. For Fulmer, delaying renovations to develop a thorough plan also includes moving the department into a new facility.
“Not to be taken lightly, we want to be good partners on campus,” Fulmer said. “(We) want to work with our outstanding audiology and speech pathology department for them to have an orderly move and not got through the hassle and expense of moving twice.”
While the logistics are worked out, Fulmer says that he has attended meetings with other SEC athletic directors, as well as other stadiums, to get a feel for how other schools are approaching, or have approached, facility upgrades and the fan experience.
“I go to SEC and national athletic director meetings,” Fulmer said. “I hear discussions going on about the fan experience, about tax codes, safety responsibilities and ticket sales. I have to ask, ‘what’s going to be important to our current fan base?
“But I also have to ask, ‘what’s going to be important to my children and grandchildren and their children’s generations and beyond.”