Five Future Plans for Peter Barton Stadium Expansion

Photo: Courtesy of Pinkard Construction

DU’s Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium sparkled like a diamond when it was formally dedicated on April 30, 2005.  The stadium had begun as a old vision from DU to be the first collegiate lacrosse-only stadium, and it began to take shape with a large donation from the family of a local cable industry tycoon as a memorial to the family patriarch, Peter Barton, who had died tragically at age 51 from stomach cancer in 2002.  The stadium was constructed before the 2009 arrival of legendary head coach Bill Tierney and the national rise of lacrosse as the fastest growing team sport in America.

But that was all more than a decade ago, and DU’s advantages of Peter Barton are shrinking fast as other universities continue to pour millions into their facilities since then. For example, the University of North Carolina just completed a $35.5 million renovation of its soccer/lacrosse complex and Ohio State announced the construction of a new $20 million lacrosse-only stadium this week. Also, since that completion of Barton Stadium, both Notre Dame and Michigan have built newer lacrosse-only stadiums and other colleges and universities are joining the capital expenditure fray to build the best facilities.

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North Carolina’s Fetzer Field. Photo: North Carolina Athletics

No doubt, Peter Barton Stadium is still a great facility, seating 2,000 people, and providing a very solid game-day experience. DU sells out Barton for nearly every game the men’s lacrosse program plays, and overflow crowds are the norm, forcing late-coming fans to sit on the grassy hill of the Ritchie Center. The locker rooms have been upgraded for the men’s and women’s teams in recent years and the artificial turf playing surface was replaced following a massive rain storm several years ago. But, the 2,000 general admission seats are fewer than many other comparable programs today and offer no growth capabilities. Concessions are not the best for food preparation/delivery and the fan experience is somewhat muted by only north-facing stands. DU’s band has been relegated to play on the distant steps of the Ritchie Center and the game-day experience could be improved vastly with some thoughtful investment.

Of course, the arguments against adding more seating would be that DU only hosts 12-20 (exhibitions, pre-season, regular BIG East season and playoffs) men’s and women’s lacrosse games per year, with little chance to recoup those costs through ticket sales as only 5-8 of those games each year are likely to “sell out.”  This is likely why the school has yet to expand Barton, even with more ticket demand.

And then there is the issue of money and the potential conflict of capital priorities with the Denver Advantage which is currently underway making major capital improvements on campus to non-athletics facilities ma potential issue.

Additionally, DU does not have an indoor practice facility, and with Colorado’s variable late winter/early spring weather, DU is starting to gradually fall behind its competitors. So, the improving the condition and functionality of Peter Barton Stadium for both practice and games is imperative. Add the fact that the charismatic Godfather of college lacrosse, Bill Tierney, will not be guiding DU forever – and the next several years are the time to develop a solid vision and plan for DU’s lacrosse future.

If we follow the current 2,500 – 3,000 seat model employed by most new lacrosse stadiums, we have identified four possible basic options to upgrade lacrosse facilities, plus a more radical fifth idea:

Option 1: Build More ‘End-Zone’ Seats to Barton Stadium: Probably the easiest and cheapest solution is to build a 1,000 seat student seating section on the Ritchie Center hillside with a party deck on top to complement the main grandstand (less than $10 million?).  This could maintain the permanent look of the stadium by matching campus architecture standards. This also would enhance the game day atmosphere for students by giving them their own party area, give the DU pep band a more logical home and open up general admission seating in the main grandstand for more non-student fans. And, it would greatly improve the game day experience for everyone. Another variation on this idea would be building new seating where the Centennial Halls cafeteria sits today.  As Centennial Halls (and Towers) are both more than 55 years old now, there will soon come a day when these dorms need replacement, or if the dorm is to stay, building a new dining hall on top of a lacrosse seating section could double as an indoor club space on game days.

Option 2: Add a North Grandstand to Barton Stadium:  In a prior article entitled It’s Time to Expand Peter Barton Stadium, we proposed adding additional seating, concessions and restrooms on the north side of the stadium, directly across from the current grandstands. In order to match the current construction aesthetic and construct 1,000 – 2,000 new seats above the current drainage area, estimates indicate that such a project could cost as much as $12-15 million, due in part to the complexity of the current drainage issues there. This idea would enhance the stadium atmosphere by having fans seated directly across from each other, turning Barton’s grandstand into a true stadium experience.  This would also enable more locker rooms and concessions to be built, and the larger capacity would not only extend fan comfort but be able to host larger events.

Option 3: Upgraded Multi-Purpose Stadium – Another option (and our least favorite) would be a total makeover of the DU Soccer Stadium into a combined, multi-purpose soccer/lacrosse stadium to improve the game-day experience for both lacrosse and soccer. This is the approach employed by North Carolina, and a combined facility offers the concept of building a second grandstand on the current adjacent Diane Wendt field to expand seating capacity. This of course, likely becomes more expensive ($15 million+), and DU would impact the popular Wendt Field to accommodate the new stadium. This option would also clear Barton Stadium for other uses, such as an indoor or outdoor practice facility or general student use.

Option 4: Double-Decking Barton or the Soccer Stadium:  Adding a second level of seating to Barton Stadium or the DU Soccer Stadium (2,000 more seats?) is another option, but perhaps the least likely due to cost and complexity of construction, but if  feasible, it could solve the problem of today’s small capacity without significantly expanding the tight footprint of the athletic campus. Doing so would also substantially enhance the look of the facility from a single grandstand to a true stadium, but we imagine these kinds of options would cost north of $15 million.

Option 5: Add Indoor Capabilities: Complicating any Barton upgrade situation that DU may consider is the glaring lack of an indoor practice facility. These facilities are becoming the norm at many schools and can also host inclement weather games. DU has had to play home games at local rival Air Force’s indoor facility and DU’s Big East rival, Marquette, has just built an indoor lacrosse facility. Also, could a more enclosed stadium offer up the opportunity to host more events and on-campus activities for students and the community? Certainly, but would DU want an indoor stadium for lacrosse? Only Syracuse plays all home games in such an indoor facility, and losing the warm-Spring-day-at-the-lacrosse-game would probably hurt.

5A Low Cost – With DU’s recently completed Tennis Park by South High School, the on-campus Stapleton Tennis Pavilion could be converted with a bubble to accommodate lacrosse, soccer and intramural sports during the cold winter months.

5B Higher Cost – Perhaps another more extreme option is turning Peter Barton stadium into an all- weather indoor stadium or at least an indoor practice facility if option #3 (multi-purpose outdoor stadium) were chosen. A cheaper way to accomplish this, again, would be to add a winter air bubble to the field for indoor practice, but, again, that solution is aesthetically unpleasing and unlikely to work at a school such as DU where good quality, permanent architecture is so valued. That option would destroy DU’s unique ‘lacrosse only’ stadium – and come at a huge cost. But, theoretically, it could be an upgrade for both sports while providing indoor facilities as well.

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Marquette’s ‘seasonal dome’ cost 3.8 million dollars and is cited as a “recruiting advantage”  by the athletic director Bill Scholl. Photo: Courtesy of On Milwaukee

With all the current capital projects taking place at DU, any of these options would have to be privately funded by either a coordinated capital campaign or a private donor. But, it DU wants lacrosse to continue to be a flagship sport for men’s and women’s lacrosse, it will take a plan and serious money.

Assuming private funds could be raised, what option do you favor?