The buzz of jackhammers and circular saws is the sound of progress for University of Arizona Athletic Director Dave Heeke.
Heeke, who moved into the AD role last year, is tasked with overseeing plenty of infrastructure improvements at the school’s football stadium and various other athletic facilities. The first step in that project is the university’s $66 million series of renovations to Arizona Stadium, as well as the Hillenbrand Softball Stadium and Aquatics Center and McKale Center locker rooms for men’s tennis, golf, women’s soccer and women’s track and field/cross-country.
The improvements also include the construction of an indoor sports center to be tucked between Cherry Road and National Championship Drive on the site of the old Sancet Baseball Stadium.
According to Heeke, quality facilites are integral to recruiting top-notch players and retaining qualified staff.
“The facility game is really a big part of that,” Heeke said. “You have kids flying over Tucson and going back to the Southeast or going to the Midwest, and it’s about facilities.”
Heeke believes the renovation work at Arizona Stadium, which includes improvements to the ZonaZoo seating section, lower east concourse and gate entry—as well as new restrooms and lower concourse access to the south end zone seating section—will improve the gameday experience for fans this fall.
The $25 million project, dubbed East Phase I, is the first of what will be several upgrades to the 90-year-old complex. Heeke also expressed his desire to renovate the football stadium’s west grandstand, which he said is in dire need of an upgrade.
Heeke isn’t opposed to the idea of replacing the stadium’s aluminum bench seating, either, a move that would likely lower capacity from its current 56,000 level to somewhere in the mid-40,000 range. Those seating improvements also carry an estimated cost in excess of $100 million.
“There’s a lot of investment that needs to take place there,” Heeke said. “Just so the accommodations for our fans are a little bit better. When you hear from people that they don’t want to come because they don’t want to go into the bathroom, that’s not good.”
Other major improvements included in the first phase of UA’s athletic facility improvement plan are a $15 million rebuild of the aquatics facility and an $8 million rebuild of the softball stadium.
Heeke is proud of the University’s proactive decision to invest in the facilities. He said the improvements to the pool include an expansion of the main 50-meter pool to 65 meters and an increase in the number of 25-yard short course lanes from 18 to 22.
He believes the university’s decision to invest $8 million to build a new softball complex will ultimately help Coach Mike Candrea keep the Wildcats at national championship level. The new facility includes a shaded grandstand with an indoor press box and loge seating.
“[Softball] has been our most successful program,” Heeke said. “So, I thought it was really important to invest in a national championship caliber program with the best softball coach in America and the chance to keep our program strong.”
Heeke believes the softball renovation work will be wrapped up by February, long before the 2019 softball season kicks off. The team will play its fall exhibition schedule on the road, with practices held at various sites around the region.
Heeke said the University’s investment is paying off for the football team, with an uptick in season ticket sales.
According to Heeke, there have been around 4,500 new season ticket packages sold during the offseason, which he largely attributes to the excitement around new coach Kevin Sumlin, Heisman Trophy hopeful Khalil Tate and the improved infrastructure.
“We will surpass last season’s sales for sure,” Heeke said. “We hope that we’ll move well beyond that and start to move back to where we were several years ago, but we need to fill the whole stadium. We’re looking to fill the stadium across the board, our goal is to be near capacity for as many games as we can.”
He’s hoping that the University’s announcement of beer and wine sales at this year’s football games, including their Sept. 1 opener against Brigham Young University, will be another step toward that goal.
“It’s really about listening to everyone from our players to our fan base about what’s important for them,” he said. “We want to know what’s important for them, and what they want to get from their experience while they’re here.”