Fresno State unveiled an ambitious re-imagining of its athletics facilities on Tuesday, targeting not just a Valley Children’s Stadium in dire need of renovation but every one of its 18 sports programs.
And, unlike a stadium renovation that flat-lined and failed in 2018, the initial phase of the project has already been paid for through a combination of private donations and the $1.5 million buyout that the athletics department received when former football coach Kalen DeBoer was hired away by Washington two years into a five-year contract.
“It’s real,” athletics director Terry Tumey said. “We are no longer in a hypothetical mode. We understand the external pressures that we have and the changing landscape of collegiate athletics.
“We do think that by showing investment by the university and by the community speaks volumes to the nation as to the importance of our athletics enterprise to what we do as a university.”
The first step in the master plan is a renovation of the suites on the east side of the football stadium, which will begin this summer.
Revenue generated from leases on the upgraded premium seating will then be used to fund or retire debt on the next phase of the renovation, which is likely to focus on the north end of the stadium and include the addition of more premium seating opportunities.
Additional funding for projects will come from private donations and perhaps a second iteration of a Fresno County tax measure that is likely to be on the ballot in March 2024 for the presidential primary election.
If successful, the plans for athletics facilities as well as the university will get a significant jolt.
How Fresno State will cover hefty price tags
The initial measure, which failed last November, would have generated around $36 million annually. Two-thirds of the funds generated by the tax put in front of Fresno County voters would have gone to academic facilities, programs and scholarships for local and low-income students and repairs to campus infrastructure and no more than one-third to support athletics.
The price tag for the project, dubbed Elevate, will be a moving target throughout and has been pegged around $250 million.
“The time is now,” university president Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval said, in a statement. “For over a century, Fresno State athletics has rallied the valley, united people from all walks of life behind a common cause and generating excitement about our university.
“Just as our winning teams fuel passion and pride in our fan base, they also fuel interest in future students near and far, giving them a pathway to become familiar with the university. In addition, our teams are the gateway to national and international brand recognition.”
There is no timeline to complete every element in the plan, but it is designed to be taken on in incremental steps that can run concurrently within a department that is spread across campus from Valley Children’s Stadium on the far west side to the Save Mart Center on the eastern edge.
If upgrading to softball or another program’s facilities are funded, that phase of the project can move forward while work is underway at Valley Children’s Stadium.
It also comes at a critical time for Fresno State, which has had ongoing discussions with the Big 12 regarding potential expansion and, regardless of conference affiliation, needs to close a facilities gap and position itself for future changes in the college athletics landscape.
“This will not only enhance our ability to provide championship experiences for our student-athletes and the Red Wave, it will ensure that Fresno State, with our storied tradition of athletic success, is positioned to compete at the highest level of intercollegiate athletics nationally, Tumey said.
Fresno State added the Morse Wittwer Performance Center for its Olympic sports programs in July, taking over and renovating space in the North Gym. But the most recent new construction within the athletics’ footprint was in 2013 with the opening of the Meyers Family Sports Medicine Center.
Basketball programs moving to Save Mart Center full-time
Some highlights of the facilities plan:
A full renovation of the Duncan Building for football including a new locker room, meeting rooms and offices, as well as a dining hall that will serve student-athletes in all sports.
A renovation of the Ricchiuti Academic Center, and an expansion of the adjoining strength and conditioning center.
New operations offices for the men’s and women’s basketball programs in the Save Mart Center, with a new performance and training center.
A new video board and construction of a hospitality deck at Margie Wright Stadium. Also, a new video board and clubhouse with a locker room and meeting space at Bob Bennett Stadium.
New facilities for the women’s soccer, track and field and cross country programs at Warmerdam Field.
A new dive tower and enhanced seating and video board at the Fresno State aquatics center for women’s water polo and swimming and diving.
A new clubhouse and new scoreboard at the Spalding G. Wathen Tennis Center, enhanced team facilities for women’s volleyball and a new covered arena for the equestrian program.
More changes at Valley Children’s Stadium
At Valley Children’s Stadium, the university in the next stages of its plan will construct a new press box and premium club tower, improve accessibility to the stadium and add other premium seating areas. It will also build new restrooms and concession areas within the venue.
“I think it’s important that we understand the juxtaposition of the university and where the university is and what role athletics plays in that growth and development,” Tumey said. “With that, we all recognize that athletics is a very important and influential part of Fresno State. We know the strength and influence of athletics and what it does for this community and what it does for our region, and how the university is a driver of the region.
“In order for us to truly move and elevate in the proper manner, we have to put in place a conceptual plan that will allow for the growth and maturation of our athletics enterprise, and that’s what you see with this plan. This plan is a concept that will address all the needs of our athletics enterprise, in all facets and in all sports. We’re looking for excellence throughout our entire portfolio of sports and in order to do that we must invest.”