From the day former Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long first presented the details of his proposed north endzone addition to Reynolds Razorback Stadium there was debate about various aspects of the project.
University of Arkansas Board of Trustees member David Pryor objected to its cost, worrying that bonds issued for construction would hold up future projects on the various U of A system campuses. The project was approved in spite of his concerns.
Some Razorback football fans questioned the value of the addition. Why did Long want to spend $160 million on a project that would result in the addition of just a few thousand seats? Long answered by pointing out that, to him, the number new seats was not the issue. It was the kind of seating that mattered. The north endzone was the only place left in the stadium without luxury suites and it is those suites, he argued, that provide the kind of extra game day revenue that allows Arkansas to be financially competitive in the SEC.
The decision to add two levels of luxury boxes above some 4,000 outdoor seats made it problematic to keep the existing Broyles Center which housed offices for the athletic department staff. Demolition of that structure and construction of a new Broyles Center added to the cost of the project. However, looking from the northwest at the almost completed exterior it's hard to argue with the results which are visually impressive.
There has been more debate, however, about the view from the northeast side which reveals a gap in the exterior that some say gives the appearance of an uncompleted project. The gap is intentional and was included in the plans in deference to fans and alums who have, for decades, considered it a tradition to be able to look inside the stadium from the hill above the north endzone parking lot.
There is, however, one feature of the gap that almost certainly will not invite debate. This past week the long awaited "Wild Band of Razorback Hogs" statue was finally assembled and put in place in front of the newly created northeast entrance to the stadium.
Legend has it that Hugo Bezdek used that phrase in a speech referring to his undefeated 1909 team. Students at the time were supposedly so impressed that they voted to change the school mascot from the Cardinals to the Razorbacks. Some say that Bezdek never made that speech. If he didn't he should have because after one hundred and nine seasons the concept, immortalized in bronze, has been placed in a spot where it most naturally belongs. It's hard to minimize the impact that statue will have on Arkansas fans entering the stadium and perhaps visiting fans as well. It is simply stunning.
There is more good news for those who have been dismayed to see a statue of Frank Broyles that used to grace the entrance to the building that carried his name, sitting in a low profile location between the stadium and the football operations center. It turns out that the move was temporary and made necessary by the construction of the new Broyles Center. Soon it will be moved back close to its original location.
With the completion of Long's most expensive facilities improvement, only the west exterior remains unchanged visually from the days when Razorback Stadium resembled a giant erector set. Perhaps Hunter Yurachek will go to the BOT in a few years with something called the Razorback Road project. if so the home side will finally be integrated into what has become one of the more impressive football stadiums in a conference known for its big time venues.
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