Standing on the field's luscious bermuda grass, KSU President Dr. Dan Papp on a recent stadium visit confidently asserted that the $16.5 million, 8,318-seat stadium at Busbee Parkway and Big Shanty Road will go far in putting the 47-year-old university on the national stage.
The stadium is the centerpiece of KSU's new sports and recreation park that will include at least nine athletic fields and nearly a mile of nature and hiking trails in proximity to a 10-acre lake. The first phase of the park included two synthetic-turf fields and a 16,000-square-foot indoor training facility called the Owls Nest, which opened in October. It's all expected to be completed by the end of the year and cost between $53 million and $56 million.
"We're on the verge of becoming a national university," Papp said. "By the time we start our second half century in five years, we want to be a national university."
The multi-use stadium includes a stage that can be placed at one end, thus increasing seating capacity to 16,316 with attendees seated on field chairs for performances. It also includes 572 club seats, 132 patio seats, 12 private suites, two press suites and a media interview room. The facility is also designed for football play if KSU decides to begin a program, which is currently under review, led by former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley.
"It would give us sufficient seating, we think, for the first couple of years," Papp said. "After that, if we were to go football, who knows?"
Dooley has noted that a football program would add more male students to KSU, which has more women enrolled than men.
Choate Construction crews have been working 24-hour shifts to complete the stadium before the new Atlanta Beat professional women's soccer team plays its first home game on May 9. The Atlanta Beat will share the stadium with KSU's womens soccer, which plays in the fall.
The major remaining construction tasks are the installation of bleachers and a large video screen, pouring more concrete and paving the parking lot. Matt Matthews, Choate project manager, said Thursday that the stadium should be upwards of 95 percent finished by May 2, and 100 percent complete by May 9.
Heavy rains since construction began in September proved to be a challenge for crews, Matthews said.
"With most projects on a typical building you reach a point where you've got a roof, so the rain doesn't really impact your schedule," he said. "But when you're building an open-air stadium, you never reach that point."
The fact that the stadium was built in what was already a natural bowl in 88-acres of land bought by KSU between Interstates 75 and 575, saved hundreds of thousands of dollars, Matthews said. Papp reported no cost overruns.
The cost of the expansion project, including stadium, is being funded through private donations, student fees and 30-year bonds, KSU Foundation chairman Norman Radow said. The facility is owned by the university's fundraising arm, the KSU Foundation, and will be managed by the Beat.
The Atlanta Beat's 7 p.m. May 9 home opener is scheduled to be nationally televised on the Fox Soccer Channel. The Women's Professional Soccer league's All-Star game will be played at the stadium on June 30.
All the national attention fits right into Beat owner T. Fitz Johnson's vision for bringing soccer enthusiasm to Kennesaw and the rest of metro Atlanta.
"I can feel the energy in our team, our staff here and when I go out into the community to some of the (soccer) clubs. Folks are real excited," said Johnson, who lives near Marietta Country Club.
He acknowledged that it will take some work turning Southern die-hard football fans into soccer enthusiasts. But he said he has a plan that includes partnerships with several soccer clubs and the Georgia State Soccer Association, as well as marketing toward area college students.
"It's very grassroots," he said. "Having that new stadium helps. What we hope is for folks who are just coming to check it out - we get them hooked."
So far, 4,900 tickets have been sold for the home opener, Johnson said on Wednesday. He said he hopes to attract an average of 6,000 fans per game for the regular season. About 1,500 season tickets have already been purchased, he reported.