Jan 21, 2014
Rose Bowl Renovation paying off
By Lauren Gold, Pasadena Star-News
PASADENA>>In January 2013, the city was saddled with $30 million in extra debt for the unanticipated costs of the Rose Bowl stadium renovation; this January, the stadium generated at least $6 million in revenues and became the national stage for two of the biggest college football games of the year.
And for those involved in the multi-million dollar project, the success of the 100th Rose Bowl Game and the BCS championship game on Jan. 1 and 6 made the largely uphill climb well worth it.
“This has been a tremendous experience for anyone involved with this project. We set out to renovate and preserve one of the greatest stadiums in the world, and certainly in the country, and it proved to be a complicated and difficult task,” Councilman and Rose Bowl Operating Company board member Victor Gordo said. “But Jan. 1 and Jan. 6 proved without question that we did the right thing not just for the stadium but for the city. ... I am very proud of what the city has accomplished over the past year.”
City Manager Michael Beck said the response to the renovations has been overwhelmingly positive.
“This last week has clearly demonstrated it was worth it,” Beck said. “The conferences, the teams, the guests, the dignitaries that were there were just so impressed with the stadium improvements and the condition of the facility. All of these improvements make the Rose Bowl economically viable in the future as a major source of tourism and ultimately tax dollars for the city.”
The City Council approved the Rose Bowl renovation project in 2010, anticipating a $152 million cost. As the project proceeded, unforseen challenges caused the price tag jumped to $195 million, and ultimately city and Rose Bowl officials settled for “substantial completion” of the original project, coming in at about $180 million. To pay for the new costs of the project, the city had to take on additional debt, which was a major factor in the city’s bond rating downgrade to AA+ by Fitch Ratings in May.
This year, the city cleared the major hurdle of the stadium renovation, totaling about $155 million of work. The project included an overhaul of the press box and installation of a new premium seating pavilion, as well as widening of some of the exit tunnels to make clearing the stadium safer and more efficient.
Gordo said in retrospect he thinks the city could have avoided some of the pitfalls along the road by being less aggressive on the timeline for construction, having a completely designed project before breaking ground and even perhaps reconsidering the decision to keep the stadium open during renovations. But, ultimately, he said those decisions were made based on the looming deadline of the 100th Rose Bowl Game along with expert advice, and the project worked itself out.
“Number one, the important thing is we took on the project,” Gordo said. “It would have been very easy to say let’s leave it to someone else, but we as a city took on the project because it was the right thing to do. Otherwise we risked losing our tenant and we risked losing the stadium.”
Rose Bowl CEO and General Manager Darryl Dunn agreed, adding that the new premium seating pavilion is already generating revenue for the city.
The stadium sold 80 percent of its premium seating occupancy this UCLA season, when they had only projected 60 percent. Premium seating sales generated $7 million in stadium revenues. The newly improved stadium also hosted a sold-out JAY-Z and Justin Timberlake concert this summer and is slated to host superstar boy band One Direction for two nights in September, events that will help begin to pay off the stadium’s debt.
“I’d say it’s sort of like climbing a mountain and you’re just trying to get to the top of it, or to a plateau, and having some challenging as you’re climbing the mountain,” Dunn said. “But we have been able to get to that place, and we’ve accomplished a great deal.”
And there’s no rest for the weary, as construction on the next $13 million phase of construction begins Monday. The next phase includes the new donor plaza with bricks in front of the stadium, a revamp of the court of champions, a new hedge along the edge of the field, a remodel of the driveway leading to the stadium and new restrooms.
“It’s going to be less expensive,” Dunn said, “but it’s definitely going to be impactful because you are dealing with our front door.”
This is the final stage of renovations for which the stadium has cash-in-hand, and will mark the completion of the majority of the planned upgrades, Dunn said. Once that construction is done this summer, the stadium will make smaller improvements as donations come in through the Legacy Campaign fundraising campaign.
In the end, after surviving the bulk of one of the toughest projects in the city’s history, Gordo said the road ahead for the iconic stadium is looking good.
“The future of the stadium has never been brighter,” Gordo said. “Interest in the stadium is at an all time high. The Rose Bowl is swimming against the current. Most municipal stadiums are going in the other direction, but the Rose Bowl is not only flourishing but it is positioned to continue to be America’s stadium and to be an economic engine for the city and for the region.”