SALT LAKE CITY — Ahead of the annual Red-White game, the University of Utah announced that the Ken Garff family has pledged $17.5 million to the Rice-Eccles Stadium expansion project — the single-largest donation in Utah Athletics history.
The project, which is set to begin following the conclusion of the 2020 football season, will enclose the stadium through a rebuild of the south end zone. That part of the end zone will raise the stadium seating capacity from 45,807 to 51,444 and provide premium seating.
The south end zone rebuild will be called the Ken Garff Performance Zone as the Garff family becomes the lead gift in the $80 million stadium renovation. The university said it has raised $32 million of its $35 million goal so far in philanthropic gifts. The remaining $45 million will come from the various athletics “sources associated with the project.”
“We are incredibly grateful for the continuing generosity of the Garff family,” University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins said. “This extraordinary gift will dramatically improve the fan experience at Rice-Eccles Stadium during football games and many other events.”
Director of Athletics Mark Harlan also thanked the Garff family for the donation, saying it’s a “transformational gift” that will “allow for a new and enhanced experience for our faithful fan base, as well as improving upon what is the best home-field advantage in the Pac-12 and beyond.”
“My father, Ken Garff, would be delighted for this day because he was a very enthusiastic sports supporter of the university,” Bob Garff said during the Saturday press conference adorning his family’s name throughout the building. “We bleed red and love the university.”
The Garff family, along with many other big-time donors such as the Spence Eccles family, have been instrumental in building up the facilities at the University of Utah. The Garff family has long been supportive of the athletics program as well as the business programs at the university.
“I want to offer a sincere, heartfelt thanks to the Garff family for this incredible gift,” Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “This really cements this project and makes it an absolute reality. This is the final piece to the puzzle for this stadium, to me. It’s already one of the best facilities in the country, but this will make it over the top.
“We indeed appreciate this. It helps us as a program on so many levels. It’s great for our players, our fans, the future recruits. There’s so many positives.”
Garff said the goal of his family’s donation is to “develop this new facility into a show stopper — and I mean show-stopper venue for recruiting and gameday performance.”
“It will enlarge the capacity of the stadium by somewhere close to 5,000 new seats and add a new locker room, suites and lounges that will create a marvelous new facility that all Utahn’s can be proud of,” he said.
With the stadium expansion, the university is again positioning itself to be the destination to house the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in either 2026 or 2030 should Salt Lake City be selected by the International Olympic Committee.
“I imagine as well that the International Olympic Committee will take note at what is going on here today — to this edition to this iconic stadium,” Harlan said.
“If the IOC is willing, it will again be the venue for the opening ceremonies of the winter games of either 2026 or 2030,” Garff said. “I think that’s a given.”
Harlan said the stadium’s expansion project is on track, adding that the university has already hired an architect and has a “Request for Proposal,” or RFP, out to hire a contractor. A contractor, according to the RFP document, is expected to be determined by May 1. At that point, university officials, the architect and contractor will travel to other universities, such as the University of Arkansas and University of Oklahoma who have recently completed new facilities, to finalize plans.
“We want this to be state of the art,” Harlan said. “I think you do that by stealing ideas and meshing that with your own creations.”
Harlan said the construction of the new renovation should be completed before the start of the 2021 season as most of the stuff is expected to be pre-fabricated, but that they would know more once the university hires a contractor. The university may have to do some things to accommodate those in the south end zone should the project take longer, but Harlan said that’s not the expectation as of now.