UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State fans will see an improved Beaver Stadium when they arrive for today's season opener against Indiana State - but there may be fewer fans than usual at the game.
Penn State has poured a minimum of $10 million into improvements to the nation's second largest stadium, the result of the new Seat Transfer and Equity Plan
program being implemented this season.
The plan was designed to increase revenue for the athletic department and to allow those who donate the most money to enjoy the best seats.
"The most significant result and impact the STEP program will have will be the ability for us to make gradual upgrades and to have funding in place to make improvements for our fans coming to Beaver Stadium. They will not all be in place this year; some don't happen on a short-term basis," said Greg Myford, associate athletic director for business relations and communications. "I think over the coming years, there will be noticeable changes at Beaver Stadium. The STEP program is an important part of us adequately funding these changes. We have asked more of our fans, so we need to provide more for the fans."
Among the noticeable physical changes is the creation of a new entry - Gate F - located near Gate A on the east side of the stadium.
Designed to accommodate 6,000 to 8,000 fans, Gate F will be a tremendous asset on game days, allowing some fans who sit on the east side and previously have entered at Gate E, a smoother entry into the stadium, said Mark Bodenschatz, associate athletic director for facilities and operations.
Penn State students will continue to enter Beaver Stadium at Gate A.
Penn State has made it easier for fans with disabilities to get in and out of the
Bodenschatz said 101 new seats, as well as 101 companion seats, are available for the season. With the Americans with Disabilities Act improvements, the Beaver Stadium capacity for the 2011 season will be 106,572, to remain the nation's second-largest stadium. Last year's capacity was 107,282.
Michigan Stadium is No. 1 with 109,901 seats.
The most noticeable changes inside the stadium have occurred in the lower sections of the East, West and North seating areas.
In the East and West areas, the first three rows of seats from goal line to goal line were removed and replaced with five large, pre-cast sections that will permit additional ADA spectators and companions to watch the game. The pre-cast sections are about 8 feet wide, to allow spectator traffic flow with the new ADA and companion seating.
Also in the East and West stands, ramps have been improved to allow for increased and easier access by ADA patrons to the new seating areas.
"We have made significant upgrades in our efforts to make sure Beaver Stadium and all of our facilities are compliant with ADA regulations," Myford said.
Paving work has been completed on the field level concourse in the East, West and North sides of the stadium to provide a smoother and level surface for fans. Eight new restroom facilities, which are ADA-accessible, have been constructed in the East, West and North sides on the field level concourse and fans will find improved drainage in seating areas.
New scoreboards are planned for the 2012 season, Myford said.
With the implementation of the STEP program, students no longer will enjoy prime seating on the East side of the stadium. The student section will primarily encompass the lower bowl of the South end zone.
Officials call the STEP program a success even though between 4,000 and 5,000 tickets will be available for most of this year's home games.
Myford said 69 percent of the 74,000 season ticket holders impacted by the program decided to stay in the same seats and pay higher donation levels to keep their seats. Nineteen percent decided to upgrade their seats, 5 percent decided to downgrade their seats and pay a lower donation and 7 percent decided to give up their season tickets.
"It is an assumption the plan may not be successful. Contrary to that, the program has been successful financially, and we still have open seats. Many people may not be aware that those seats are available. We even had season tickets available this year. Most of the public anticipates you can't get a Penn State season ticket," Myford said. "That there will be tickets available is not a surprise to us at all."
Penn State fans also should be aware of some changes in parking around Beaver Stadium.
With the construction of new intramural fields under way, Lot 13 along Park Avenue will not be available this season. However, with the completion of Nittany Lion Softball Park, Lot 9 will be available to its capacity for the 2011 season, Bodenschatz said.
Also, fans with single game RV parking passes can no longer use Porter Road for entry into the lots. They will access the RV lots via Park Avenue or Fox Hollow Road.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.