There’s a new perspective for some to watch University of Central Arkansas football games at Estes Stadium.
As major supporters look toward the setting sun in the west, they will view games in golden luxury.
Media members were provided a preview Tuesday of the new skyboxes and athletic offices at the stadium, which will be dedicated Saturday night before the UCA-Bacone College game. The skyboxes and offices are on the fourth and fifth floors of Bear Hall, the university’s new resident hall and living and learning community.
Open house for Bear Hall and EPIC (Entrepreneurship, Public Scholarship, Innovation and Community Engagement) Residential College will be from 4-7 p.m. Thursday. Tours of the skyboxes also will be offered at the open house.
The fifth floor has 12, 20-person skyboxes with a view of both the campus and wooded hillsides in the distance. The project cost $2.2 million, which came in under a $2.5 million budget, said Dr. Brad Teague, UCA’s athletic director. Businesses and groups can rent the skyboxes for $25,000 a year or make a $200,000 immediate payment for 10 years.
All but two of the skyboxes have been rented, Teague said. Of the 10 that are rented, five businesses or groups paid the $200,000 up-front cost, which took $1 million off the debt.
"A $1.2 million debt for skyboxes? That’s bringing things in in pretty good shape," said Teague, who noted the rest of the expense will be paid over time by the yearly rental.
Darrell Walsh, UCA’s associate athletic director, was the athletic department’s liaison for the project and has been working alongside the architects and construction team since the project’s conception about three years ago.
"The big thing is the project was completed on time," Walsh said.
The skyboxes were built above the east stands opposite the press box.
Attaching them to a campus building, which offers both a residential college and classrooms, reduced the cost significantly. Cost of constructing skyboxes above the press box on the west side was estimated at $13 million, Teague said. He added that the athletic department, which occupies 10 percent of the residential college complex, will pay 10 percent of the infrastructure costs.
"I haven’t looked at these in three weeks and now that I see the almost-completed project, it is better than expected," Teague said. "We toured football and baseball boxes at Fayetteville (University of Arkansas) and also skyboxes at Ole Miss, the Memphis Redbirds (minor league baseball) and the Arkansas Travelers. We took the best aspects of each."
The skyboxes will have outdoor seating as well as a private indoor area with flat-screen televisions, refrigerators, logoed bar stools and tables and lounge chairs.
"We tried to address what all the fans wanted," Teague said. "Some people like to sit outside and hear the sounds and smell the smells. Others like to watch from inside. People were asking us about both."
Each skybox has a mesh screen that can be lowered on the outside to reduce the sun’s glare.
Outside the skyboxes on the interior is a large lounge area that will serve all the skybox patrons. Attached to the lounge is a large kitchen. Each skybox group will be given a choice of UCA-themed menus that range on the high end from beef tenderloin and shrimp or sushi to the medium end of pulled pork and wraps to the lower end of hamburgers and hot dogs. Each menu selection includes purple-and-gray M&Ms, popcorn, soft drinks and nuts.
"Many skybox facilities don’t have a lobby because they have a club room below," Teague said. "We wanted the lobby so occupants of all the skyboxes could mix and mingle right outside their boxes."
The skybox area will have 31 televisions, all with Conway cable, two in each of the 12 skyboxes, five in the lounge and one in each of the men’s and women’s restrooms.
Teague said the skyboxes, which have a separate entrance from the residence hall, will normally be open three hours before game time and earlier for special occasions. For example, Saturday, the area will be open at 2:30 p.m. for occupants wishing to watch the Arkansas-Alabama game. The skyboxes will normally be open until an hour after the game.
"But scheduling is flexible." Teague said. "The lounge area can also be used by any campus group of different organizations. We may use it for things like Bearbackers luncheons. But it’s available for any small group."