Crown jewel for Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium already stunning

The 10,000-seat expansion to Cardinal Stadium is  on schedule and under budget, and will be ready for the season opener in 2018 (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

Still hard to believe for this long time University of Louisville football fan who dared to dream of UofL someday having its own facility while having his view partially obscured by a steel post at the fairgrounds.

But here we are again, back at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for an update on still another expansion. This one a luxurious state-of-the-art, 10,000-seat addition, which will complete the oval. Raising capacity to 65,000 seats, along with growing expectations for the UofL football program.

Mark Jurich has been responsible for raising funds and overseeing the stadium expansion (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The construction towers over the north end zone, confirming that the latest addition will be the crown jewel, a striking tribute to college football in Louisville. “The magnitude of it is stunning,” said Tom Jurich, standing in front of the massive combination of wood, concrete and steel framework on Thursday.

The Vice President of Athletics confirmed that the project is on time and under budget and will be complete in time for the home opener in 2018.”I don’t think any college in the country can compete with this as far as the uniqueness of it,” he said.

It’s no secret that Tom has delegated most of the responsibility, including the fundraising and construction, of the stadium expansion to his son Mark Jurich, senior associate athletic director.

The younger Jurich said he is excited for UofL fans who will occupy the end zone expansion. “Our fans are going to be right on top, giving our players an atmosphere unlike anything they’ve experienced before,” he said.

“I’m excited to know they participated in this being built, buying seats, buying tickets to see this,” he said. “It is just the next step the football program and the university are taking together.”

These premium seats will have access to two premier gathering areas; the Pepsi Club, which will provide viewing access to the field, and another premium club, which will be similar to AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys.

All of the concrete work is expected to be complete by this year’s home opener against Clemson on Saturday, Sept. 16th.  Serving notice to the Tigers and the rest of the college football world that the UofL football program intends to be a major player, now and in the future.




Johnny U takes a sabbatical, moves to secure location

Johnny U has left his perch at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Johnny Unitas no longer stands guard over the North end zone at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. In his absence is a stub of the concrete statue honoring the former University of Louisville great.

The statue has been moved and won’t be back until the expansion is complete in 2018.

That was the word from JCPS Stadium Manager Michael Ortman who is putting a padlock on Gate 9 a couple of minutes after the observer leaves the stadium on Tuesday morning.

“Where’s Johnny U?” the observer asks.

“I can’t say,” says Ortman. “The statue has been moved to another location where it will be safe and secure.”

“What about the bricks with the donors’ names on them?”

Stadium Manager Michael Ortman.

“They have been palletized,” replies Ortman. “and they are in safekeeping as well.”

“You sure you can’t tell us where Johnny U is being stored?”

“No way,” says Ortman, wondering who the character is asking all the questions. “The statue is in a safe location and I’m not saying anything about the whereabouts.”

As Vice President Tom Jurich promised, the stadium expansion began two days after the final game of the 2016 season. Work is clearly visible in both the north end zone and north of the Howard Schnellenberger football complex. Lots of preparation work for new utilities is under way in both areas. 

The shell of the new end zone structure is expected to be in place during the 2017 football season, along with framework of construction of the new football training facility. 

As for when and where Johnny U will be stationed when he returns , Ortman is equally mum.

“We’ll see,” he says.

Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium expansion has begun

Editor’s Note: The following has been edited to include updated information on Messer Construction.

Most University of Louisville football fans are still attempting to recover from those two bitter losses at the end of the regular season. A disappointing end to what at times held the promise being the best season ever.

The hangover is a natural reaction to some dashed expectations and is only temporarily. Despite the trainwreck at the end, UofL football was in contention for a college football playoff spot for much of the season. Close to competing for a national championship. Sooner or later, fans will draw strength from that fact.

Messer Construction's command center has been set up outside Gate 9.
Messer Construction’s command center has been set up outside Gate 9.

That’s why Tom Jurich is moving ahead with the $55 million expansion plans for Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, which will include an additional 10,000 seats, including 1,000 club seats, 70 premium boxes and 12 exclusive field-level suites.

Construction crews have already been doing preliminary work on the lawn of the football complex just outside the stadium. Security fencing has been installed, some trees and shrubbery have been removed, and several holes have been dug, apparently for preliminary electrical work.

Coming to your stadium in August 2018.
Coming to your stadium in August 2018.

A Louisville-based unit of Messer Construction, which built the Thornton’s Academic Center for Excellence, has set up a command facility just outside Gate 9 on North side of the stadium.

Messer Construction also is involved in a major expansion of Audubon Hospital on Poplar Level Road, the Old Forester Distillery on Main Street, and Thornton’s new corporate headquarters on Old Henry Road.

Sports Information Director Kenny Klein confirmed that the crews began work on Monday, as Jurich had promised back in June when he announced an expected completion date of August 6, 2018. That would be about three weeks before the regular season home opener against Notre Dame.

Klein said the crews are doing preliminary preparatory work. “It will be a while before the heavy cranes arrive,” he said. “But, yes, the stadium expansion project is underway.”

$8 million kickstart for Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium expansion


The Pepsi Club will provide still another great fan gathering place.
The Pepsi Club will provide still another great fan gathering place.

Many more details were made available on the $55 million expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium during a press conference on Thursday. The latest project in the University of Louisville’s commitment to having the best facilities in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Pepsi is in for $5 million. Planet Fitness for $3 million. The fundraising campaign is in high gear now, with Tom Jurich eager to get to the groundbreaking as soon as possible.  With $8 million already in the proverbial bank and with other donors already reviewing their budgets, the campaign is off to a fast start.

Mark Jurich is managing the fundraising campaign.
Mark Jurich is managing the fundraising campaign.

Mark Jurich, son of Tom and senior associate athletic director, said the project has received an enthusiastic response from local corporations. He described the end zone addition as Crunch Zone 2.0, saying it would significantly enhance the fan experience at the stadium. “Support for the concept has been overwhelming in the community,” said Mark.

The 10,000-seat expansion will include 1,000 club seats, 70 premium boxes, and 12 exclusive field level suites. They will provide access to the exclusive Pepsi Club gathering area, similar to the existing B&W and PNC clubs on the east and west sides of the stadium.  It also will include a walkway connecting both sides of the stadium, making it accessible to all UofL fans.

The Howard Schnellenberger complex will be expanded as well, with an additional 40,000 square feet that will double the weight and training facilities. New meeting rooms and recreational areas, including a movie theater, will be available to the football players.

“As important as this project is to our department, we want to get it done as soon as we can,” said Mark.

Tom indicated that construction would take at least two years to compete and would not cause any disruption with home football games.  Although he would like to have it done in time for the 2018 season, he has little doubt that will be done for the Notre Dame game that kicks off the 2019 home schedule.

Papa John’s Stadium expansion inevitable, but Jurich taking his time

Have to wonder why Tom Jurich has yet to announce plans for the next expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Enlarging the stadium to at least 65,000 seats would appear to be inevitable.

When the invitation for bids for a feasibility study was announced, the project was to have been completed in a period of a few months and should have been completed a while back. The guess here is the University of Louisville’s development staff is out shaking the bushes and that Jurich is tinkering with design concepts. If true, that leaves  the questions of when and where to expand.field

Any expansion will almost certainly have been completed by Sept, 2, 2019. That’s when Notre Dame is scheduled to play its first game ever at Papa John’s. That’s the day Jurich will look out from his perch in the Brown & Williamson Club suite and see a standing room only crowd of 63,000 to 70,000 fans. The only problem with that scenario is that UofL will have waited at least two more years to begin the expansion, and construction costs will have risen exponentially.

There was no need for expansion this season, with Kentucky or Florida State not on the home schedule. But he’s going to have to decide soon if it’s going to happen in time for 2016, a date that would coincide with the opening of the new Academic Center for Excellence. That’s unlikely.  Two major construction projects occurring virtually side by side could get complicated, making a 2017 target date more likely.

So where to expand? The logical part of the stadium to expand is the north end zone, which, by college football standards, drastically needs an upgrade. The Howard Schnellenberger complex, which was a step forward when it was constructed, is cluttered with advertising, as is the video scoreboard with the massive speakers and its own advertising. To put it bluntly, that end of the stadium is starting to look a little tacky. Even the Johnny Unitas statue is starting to look uncomfortable, especially when coupled with the Cardinal logo inflatables.

An end zone concept similar to that at Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.V., which includes luxury boxes at the top, general seating at the lower level, along with a special place for the UofL Marching Band would seem to fit pretty well there, with luxury boxes generating the income to help offset the expansion. Adding a second level above either the B&W Club or above the south end zone would be much more expensive, as well as creating an unsightly imbalance in the overall design, reflecting a piecemeal approach.

Only Tom Jurich knows for certain, but an inescapable conclusion is that expansion will occur in the north end zone, that it will include at least 10,000 more seats bringing capacity to 65,000 and it will be ready for Notre Dame in 2019.