Although its gates may be pristine and its mystique may be grand, Michigan Stadium is in need of a face lift. Its aisles are narrow, its bathrooms are scarce and its infrastructure is showing its age.

Bob Hunt

The administration of the University realizes this and is currently considering significant renovations to the Big House. Unlike the changes that took place in 1998 — which were a quick response to Tennessee trumping Michigan in having the country’s largest stadium — the plans in the works could cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Some students and alumni may approach these ambitions with skepticism. After recently seeing a corporate sponsor almost slapped on the Michigan-Ohio State game, they may wonder if these plans will lead Michigan further toward the commercialization of collegiate athletics.

But people should look at these renovations with an open mind. Full-scale renovations at Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State and other places have, for the most part, only improved those stadiums. The Michigan community should trust its administration to do the same.

Both president Mary Sue Coleman — who will give final approval to any plans — and Athletic Director Bill Martin realize that what makes Michigan unique is its aura and tradition. They both know that anything done must fit within what is Michigan.

Doubters may reference the 1998 renovations, which included a hideous maize and blue halo around the rim of the stadium that was lined with phrases such as “Hail to the Victors.” But neither Coleman nor Martin were around then.

I spoke with Coleman two weeks ago about the possible stadium renovations. She said that she’s concerned about the experience fans have when they attend Michigan Stadium, and that the administration has the responsibility to look at these issues. Although improving these things will likely include “enclosed seating,” or what many outside the program have referred to as luxury boxes, it was clear that neither she nor the regents will approve anything distasteful.

When I asked her about what happened with SBC and the Michigan-Ohio State game, she said, “It did not have my approval.” Once she heard about the impending deal, she killed it immediately.

Although it was Martin who moved the SBC deal forward, he is more than capable of taking on this project the right way. While many athletic directors have the bulk of their experience in coaching, much of Martin’s expertise is in real estate.

Martin founded the First Martin Corporation in 1968, which owns a number of buildings around Ann Arbor including the First National Building — one of the most prominent properties on Main Street. Martin is also responsible for the corporate strategy of the investment arm of First Martin based in Chicago and started by his son Seth. He also founded the Bank of Ann Arbor.

With his leadership, Martin has steered the athletic department in the right direction. When he took over in 2000, Michigan had one of the worst athletic departments in the Big Ten in soliciting donations. That has changed under his tenure. The department now has a clear vision for rebuilding the infrastructure of its facilities, something that was previously lacking. There is a new academic center for athletes under construction on State Street, and there have been discussions about renovating or rebuilding a number of Michigan athletic facilities.

Martin admitted that he made a mistake with the SBC situation, and his experiences in real estate and as athletic director have prepared him for leading this project.

If anyone can take the reins of rebuilding Michigan Stadium, it’s him.

For a school that has the tradition of Michigan, there’s always going to be resistance to change. But renovating Michigan Stadium is necessary in order to keep Michigan in the elite of college football.

The time for change is now, and this administration is the one to do it.

 

Bob Hunt can be reached at bobhunt@umich.edu.

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