The nearly 100,000 football fans who pack into the Rose Bowl for the big game tomorrow will be among the last to experience the stadium in its current state. Crews will begin a $152 million renovation of the Rose Bowl early next year.
On a sunny, warm December day, the Rose Bowl is as quiet as a team in the locker room after a bad loss. The dusty pink seats and aluminum benches are empty. Crews work on the field.
Sue Mossman of the historic preservation group Pasadena Heritage points out the changes the renovation will bring.
"So, this will be more elliptical and then they will put a hedge back about where this wall is – which it used to originally have a hedge," she says.
The stadium will get new plumbing and electrical and other infrastructure upgrades. They will widen the claustrophobic tunnels that lead from outside to the seating area. They will add a 1940s replica scoreboard, too.
Mossman says the renovation will keep the historic “feel” of the Rose Bowl, which hosted its first game 88 years ago.
"It was designed at a time when football was just reaching a peak of attention in local communities and on a national level," Mossman explains. "This was becoming maybe the second great American pastime, was American-style football."
Mossman says the Rose Bowl is the last, most-intact football stadium of its kind and of its time.
"So it has a history. It has a patina," she says. "It has a whole legacy that goes with the physical structure – is all about the history of the country, football as a sport, college football as something that communities embrace and endorse and live for – all of that goes with this place."
At UCLA’s last home game against USC, the stadium was a sea of “true blue” and gold, with the end zones filled with USC’s cardinal and gold.
A lot of the fans at the game hadn’t even heard of the renovation plans. But those in on the game plan generally liked the idea.
Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn says it’s a unique situation.
"We are a college football stadium and we don’t have alumni. Typically, a university, a college football stadium with a big renovation, the alumni are a big part of it. So it’s hard," Dunn says. "Municipally owned stadiums with college football as their anchor tenants have died. So we’re going against that trend."
Like a coin toss that starts a game, Dunn says it’s a gamble if they don't renovate, especially with the chance that an NFL team could move to L.A. soon.
"And if a new stadium comes to Los Angeles – which we anticipate will happen – certainly that won’t be $150 million. That will probably be over $1 billion and they’ll have every bell and whistle known to mankind," Dunn says. "But this place is, you know, a mecca for college football. And college football is a very strong, healthy sport. And that’s what we’re embracing."
Pasadena City Manager Michael Beck says the renovation will give them some leverage in the stadium market.
He says they’re worried if they don't do anything, they’ll lose the Rose Bowl in the next decade or two. Beck says the window of opportunity for renovating is now.
"The interest rate environment is the best that it’s been in years and so we can actually borrow more money at the same sort of debt service payment than we could previously," Beck says. "As a result of the economic slowdown, the competitive bidding environment is very strong and so we actually can get more competitive pricing on our bids."
And the stadium qualified for “Build America” bonds, a federal stimulus program that gives a rebate on the interest rate. That saves several million dollars, but they had to get the project approved before the end of the year.
The renovation will also quadruple the number of luxury boxes. Stadium officials say that’ll help keep them in the game by giving them a stream of money for future upkeep.
It’s a plan that they hope will be a touchdown for the granddaddy of college football stadiums.