Wisconsin's redesign project brings Camp Randall, Field House together like never before
MADISON — The bar runs from one side of the room to the other, broken only by four black support pillars that stretch up toward an overlook carved out from the floor above.
At the opposite end of the new indoor Champions Club are doors and windows with views of the Camp Randall Stadium turf, bringing natural light into the space that will be filled with fans on University of Wisconsin football Saturdays.
There are eight 85-inch TV screens behind the bar, one way to watch the game if those fans are more interested in staying inside.
But the light that might capture the most attention in the new premium space at Camp Randall is trained on the element that has been there for more than 90 years and now is doubling as a design feature.
Above the rows of liquor bottles, the stone exterior walls of the Field House glow, highlighting a connection between the new facility and the Badgers' history. That part of the building had been hidden for nearly 20 years by the upper rows of the previous south end zone seating structure.
It now is a focal point for the largest club space created in the project that converted rows of bleacher seats into three levels of premium areas.
Jason King, UW's senior associate athletic director who oversaw the CR Future construction, admitted that the inclusion of the Field House was a personal component of the work.
"One of the projects that I've really enjoyed the most is the whole refresh of the Field House that we started a couple of years ago and that we're very proud of," he said. "Now we're able to really incorporate that refresh into a brand new facility here as well.
"There's a huge part of our history that's right here and a huge part of our history that's in Camp Randall. And we're tying both of those spaces together, which I think is really unique and special."
There was no getting around involving the Field House in a renovation of the south end zone seating. The UW volleyball and wrestling venue — and formerly home to the basketball teams before the Kohl Center opened in 1998 — is the back wall of the section.
Before that seating area was rebuilt in 2004, the Field House's north wall was a natural glancing point for spectators because it held the large scoreboard and message board. It also brought attention to the aging of the Field House, whose windows showed cracks and sandstone held the dirt of decades.
The windows have been replaced in recent years and the cleaned stone is a more natural shade, both of which make an impact inside and outside the new Camp Randall seating structure that has been built since UW played its final 2021 game last November.
UW did more than just use the Field House as a backdrop. A connection through an upper level of the new south end zone seating in the 1917 Club allows access to a balcony space inside the Field House. That gives the Field House a club space to overlook the court for the first time.
The $77.6 million project shows two ways UW is entering a new phase with events at Camp Randall. One is by offering a large amount of premium seating that includes an outdoor component.
Most of the suite and club seating that existed at the stadium before this season was only indoors, so the fan experience was behind glass.
The other change is an expansion of the gatherings that Camp Randall can hold. UW officials have mentioned corporate events and weddings as being feasible in the new club spaces.
"Generally speaking, Camp Randall's use has been dominated by game day," athletic director Chris McIntosh said. "Obviously game day's not going to change; we think it'll be enhanced. But I think this is the start of a Camp Randall that is used far more than seven Saturdays a year. This project is a perfect way to kick that off.
"The programming and the flexibility that it provides allows us to do incredible open-air activation but in the winter and late fall, get in a climate-controlled environment but still benefit from all that Camp Randall can offer."
UW has been talking about renovating Camp Randall's south end zone seating since 2016, when it surveyed ticket buyers about their preferences for the space. Those interested mentioned more leg room and wider, padded seating as the top amenities they were looking for in new premium seating.
The report compiled by Legends in 2016 indicated that club and loge seats along the sidelines were by far the preference as opposed to those in the end zone.
Despite that indication, UW proceeded with designs for the south end zone and made them public for the first time in 2017. The plans changed a few times and the project was delayed by a year because of the pandemic, but the major ideas have remained the same.
An outdoor terrace, the Fifth Quarter Patio, is atop the new structure. It features chairback seating and a casual space for games and mingling around the arched Field House windows and four 85-inch TVs.
The 1917 Club one floor below has a cutout that overlooks the Champions Club and the stone wall of the Field House. It has access to outdoor loge boxes.
The Champions Club serves approximately 1,000 fans in the rows of cushioned chairback seats outside its doors. Below that, the outdoor Touchdown Club has food and drink for sale to fans who have seats in other parts of the stadium with purchase of a membership.
The lower level has front-row loge boxes that seat four or six people and ledge seats in rows above them. The loge boxes include a 20-inch TV and a refrigerator and both areas have heated flooring. Both areas feed into the Victory Club with a bar, food service and a video screen wall inside.
The luxury comes at a cost: UW advertised prices earlier this year as between $1,500 and $3,500 per person per season, not including a required gift to UW Athletics that starts at $2,500 per purchase.
McIntosh said he wants to make sure Camp Randall gets better with age. That's becoming more of a challenge as time and space work against the older parts of the facility.
The south end zone renovation transformed one of the newest parts of the venue, completed in 2004. An athletic facilities master plan in 2017 identified the stadium's west side, part of which dates to 1917, as a potential next area for improvements.
Fan movement through the concourse on the west side of the stadium competes with lines at concession stands and bathrooms, creating bottlenecks. The master plan envisioned a reconstruction of the middle of the west stands that would move and enlarge the concourses and lower them to street level.
"We definitely have plans in the future to continue to make upgrades to Camp Randall," King said. "That's going to be an enormous project. So we need to finish this one first, then we'll tackle the next one."
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