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Premium seat plan for UB heads West

The University at Buffalo has scaled back its plan for club seating at UB Stadium as a way to get the premium seats installed for this football season.

The bigger aim of the plan is to get a revenue stream going immediately that will – UB hopes – allow construction of a new field house to get started in the near future.

UB recently announced that renovations will begin soon to construct a club section with 400 outdoor seats that have access to an enclosed private concourse and seating area with food and beverage service. The cost is between $800,000 and $1 million, said UB Athletics Director Danny White. It’s on the press box side of the field, and it will be ready for the season, which opens Sept. 5.

Two years ago, UB announced plans to build an “East Club” on the other side of the stadium that would seat 1,600. That’s still part of UB’s master plan, White said. But getting the West Club up and running can facilitate the top-priority building project of the athletics department – a field house.

UB is one of only two members of the 13-school Mid-American Conference that does not have an indoor practice facility for its football team. Ball State is the other.

The cost of a field house is about $18 million. The UB Foundation board of directors in November approved a funding plan that would allow construction to start once the athletics department has $6 million in hand. The Foundation board gave its OK to borrow $10 million to fund the project.

White said the UB athletics department has $1.1 million in hand committed for the field house. It needs $4.9 million more.

Despite such a big difference, he expressed hope that UB could reach the $6 million target within a couple years.

“Hopefully we’re closer than that – closer to announcing that it’s happening,” White said. “It will take a year and a half or two years to build once construction starts. We’re working on the fundraising to make it happen.”

How does the West Club factor in? UB expects to raise at least $350,000 a year from the premium seating section.

“That will take care of hopefully about half of the mortgage for the field house,” White said.

The money to build the West Club is coming from the payout UB’s football team will receive for playing at Penn State in September. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium seats 106,572. It’s standard operating procedure for national football powers to provide paydays for visiting non-conference opponents.

UB has about 350 commitments for club seats, so the decision was made to fast-track the West Club construction.

“It kind of evolved as part of the conversations we had last year about the field house funding model,” White said. “So the UB Foundation board approved a funding model last November for the field house. It basically dictates that we need to raise $6 million philanthropically, and they’re going to allow us to use some of the revenue coming in off of the college football playoff and the ESPN contract with the MAC to pay for debt service.”

“So as that came around, we started to realize we were probably a couple years away from the East Club becoming a reality, given the amount of commitments we had coming in,” White said. “The East Club originally was conceived as a way to get the field house done. It still needs to happen eventually. But it’s 1,600 seats, and it’s more expensive to build. So we started to poke around to see what’s possible on the West Side.”

“Could we fulfill the orders that were already in, build something less expensive, and have the revenue immediately start participating in the field house project?” White said.

The West Club is a relatively easy construction project, because the press box easily can be converted to premium seating, and a lot of the wiring and infrastructure needed already is in place because UB’s enclosed suites are on that side of the field. The press box will be moved to one end of the second level.

“It’s going to help us open the field house sooner, and that’s always been our No. 1 priority,” White said. “So once the architects looked at it, the numbers came back favorable. We could do a nice club level on the West Side for not a ton of money, have 400 seats that will generate about $350,000 a year – just from what’s committed so far – for 10 years. That will take care of hopefully about half of the mortgage for the field house.”

The cost of a club seat with lounge access is $1,000 a year, plus $125 for a season ticket. Fans also can pay $1,200 plus the $125 ticket cost for a group of seats in the club.

UB is going to have to relocate some regular season-ticket holders in a few upper rows below the press box area to make room for the club seats.

“As we build our program, we need more premium seats,” White said. “If we want our alums to come in, that’s the expectation, that they have premium seats like with the Sabres and Bills. Those fans want to sit outside but they also want to enjoy heated or cooled space that’s climate controlled.”