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Preseason Death Valley Construction Update

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I was fortunate enough to attend the new suites reveal, and took the opportunity to blaspheme.

Clemson built Barad-dûr because HEY WHO NEEDS A REASON.
Clemson built Barad-dûr because HEY WHO NEEDS A REASON.
Alex Craft

I meant for this article to highlight all of the ongoing campus construction projects underway, but all we care about this time of year is football. Death Valley looks different now than it did last fall, and I saw it up close Friday evening at the suites reveal. As usual, the structure and bleachers were all pressure washed, the upper deck lettering got a fresh coat of paint, and the stadium as a whole looks better than ever.

However, you can tell from my photos plenty of last minute construction remains before opening weekend; both President Clements and AD Dan Radakovich assured the gathered donors that everything would be ready September 5th.

DV Pano

North and South Suites

Clemson brought Death Valley into the modern era with upgrades to the sideline club seating. Maximizing revenue through premium seating is the model for every new stadium both in college and the NFL, and Clemson can now provide a top-end, NFL-level club environment to VIP guests and top donors along the sidelines as opposed to merely the WestZone Club. To paraphrase Radakovich, the suites transformed from a "motel to a hotel" style as you can see from the picture below.

suite hallway

Last year this was an open-air concrete breezeway. Now the corridors are enclosed and air-conditioned.

The boxes themselves were impressive, with a spacious kitchen and lounging area (complete with a 55 inch LG LED) in the rear before reaching three rows of tiered cushioned seats at the front. A switch controls the windows allowing them to slide up for open air spectating, allowing patrons to feel a part of the atmosphere instead of apart from it.

DV Pano

West End Zone

Almighty and Powerful Oculus, give wisdom to your prophet Dabo, deliver us from the eligibility of 5 hearts, smite the evil woohooers and Howard's Rock foam hat wearers, and bless us with TOO DEEPNESS.

Never go Aggie weird.

I want to start by saying the WEZ was undeniably necessary and an obvious improvement over the simple 5,000 seat grandstand which previously stood in its place. It has allowed us to recruit at an increasingly high level since its construction in 2005 -- showcasing why facility improvements are necessary for every program, at every level.

An upgrade to the west side of Death Valley was so badly needed that in 2004 we were happy with ANY rendered improvement. Modernizing the locker room, adding amenities, and moving the coaches offices and meeting rooms to the stadium were necessary investments in a stagnant and decayed program.

Adding premium seating and a club level increased revenue through both ticket sales and increased donations. Connecting the north and south stands through a bowl provided symmetry to Death Valley and allowed for complete lower level circulation.

The WEZ was the most impactful athletic project since the upper decks were added in the late 70s and early 80s, and it is not even close. That said, I think the WEZ and its three phases over the last decade will prove to be a waste -- just as we now see the early 2000s renovation of Littlejohn a waste while we await its excavation and rebuilding.

Clemson built the oculus because the WEZ is an ugly building. The oculus is an upgrade to the facade because ANYTHING is an upgrade to the facade. For the sake of recruiting, I'm all for spending money on facilities and constantly upgrading something, even on superficial and aesthetic elements such as this. But once you get over the shiny new effect, you will see the oculus resembles a grain silo -- or for the imaginative, a missile silo.

oculus missile

The oculus is an improvement to the exterior, but tacky from inside the stadium.

Compounding my issue with the oculus is it will not allow for any future expansion plans. I have long felt Clemson should have completed the entire lower bowl before adding a club level, with future plans allowing for an upper deck if necessary; essentially how Alabama handled its endzones. Instead, Clemson bowled half of the rows between the north and south stands instead of the entirety, then perched an awkward club box on top of it.

Adding another upper deck on the existing WEZ is impractical (both before and after the oculus) not only because of the space the club level consumes, but also because a new deck on top of the existing WEZ structure would not provide quality seats. Completing the entire lower bowl would have allowed for 7,000-10,000 new lower deck (read: desirable and therefore in-demand) seats.

But college football attendance continues to decline nationally, you say? Clemson has no need for increased capacity, you say? I offer three counterpoints:

  1. Clemson's enrollment has increased by nearly 3,000 since my freshman year in 2009, and will continue to increase after completing the largest construction project in University history.

  2. The Upstate -- particularly the Greenville area which Clemson neighbors -- continues to grow at an exceeding rate.

  3. Most importantly, Clemson football is trending upward; a continually improving program will attract more and more fans, especially at a school and region experiencing so much growth.

The WestZone Club itself is a spectacularly luxurious and practical space. But the two features which made the WEZ such a necessary project -- competitive amenities for the program and additional club seating for top donors -- will soon be obsolete, or at least diminished in value. The football program will move out of the WEZ upon the completion of the new Operations Facility. The aforementioned renovations to the north and south clubs mean the WestZone Club is no longer the only luxury option for top donors.

In order to expand Death Valley, Clemson would not only have to knock down the WEZ club level, we would have to peel off the new oculus too. All of which will only allow for new upper deck (read: undesirable and therefore not in-demand) seating above the WestZone Club -- unless the program truly goes "All In" and starts over by completing the lower level bowl in its entirity. The oculus could then be reincorporated into the new structure.

In defense of the AD, there was no need to expand Death Valley in 2005, and there is still no need for increased capacity today. But in an industry as lucrative and facilities-driven as college football, an AD with the resources Clemson possesses must always plan for its future growth. Clemson's previous administration did not, which is why we have seen new features (the tiny awkward corner video boards and now the oculus) clumsily tacked on in recent years. This echoes the Littlejohn renovations at the turn of the millennium, and I will not be surprised if Clemson starts over on the WEZ in the next decade.