COLUMBIA (WIS) – With just one day until the first University of South Carolina home game this football season, university officials are ready for fans to see new upgrades in and around Williams-Brice Stadium.
"It's better than we could have ever imagined," said Executive Associate Athletic Director Kevin O'Connell as he looked out over the Old Farmers Market parking lot from the third level of stadium. "I think our design team did a fabulous job."
O'Connell says it took 18 months and 30.5 million dollars to transform the old lot into a Gamecock's tailgating dream. He says the lot has a park-like feel is topped off by more than 762 trees, 3200 shrubs, 1500 flowering plants and 1600 low-level plants. "Really it's a gift to all the citizens of Columbia because it gives you 53 acres of park-like scenery," added O'Connell.
There are also more than 3000 parking spots, six bathroom facilities, shaded tent zones, cable and electric hook-ups and the ‘Garnet Way'. "[On Saturday], the full band will march at 10:45 a.m. and then they'll do a pep-rally down in front, so it's really going to be a lot of fun," said O'Connell.
O'Connell says most all of the season parking spots are already sold, but on Saturday there will be 100 spots available for game day parking. There are now three gates to enter into the Old Farmers Market, and university officials say many of the spots that used to be right next to the stadium have been moved to the new lot.
"Part of the whole effort to build this beautiful facility was to get the cars off the site of Williams-Brice stadium, so we've gone from 500 cars around the facility and around the stadium to about 120," said O'Connell. "What that's going to mean is a much safer footprint for our fans that are coming to the game," he added.
O'Connell also says that means there will also be more pedestrians walking across the street and whether you're parking in the Old Farmers Market lot or somewhere else, South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) officials say pack some patience and know where you're headed beforehand. "It will help save you time going in and help us save time to keep traffic moving and help people get into their parking spaces a lot faster," said Lance Corporal Brent Kelly with SCHP.
Lance Cpl. Kelly says there are also some parking changes on the East side of the stadium. "They [the Department of Transportation] have actually put up no parking signs on Shop Road this year, so if you parked there last year plan not to park there this year, because if you do you will be subject to a fine and having your vehicle towed," said Lance Cpl. Kelly. Kelly adds that the change was made because the cars on the side of the road forced pedestrians to walk in the road, and officials felt they could not get emergency vehicles through quickly and safely if needed.
Once you have parked and head into the Brice, University officials say there's one more gift they can't wait for you to see- the new video board. "It's magnificent," said O'Connell. "Thirty-six feet high, 124 feet long… it's the third largest in the Southeastern Conference and HD Quality," said O'Connell.
O'Connell says the 6.5 million dollar video board also has special LED lights for big plays. "2001, big interception, big stop by the defense, game winning touchdown…all those type of things, we'll be able to do the light show at night and it's going to be a lot of fun for our fans," added O'Connell.
The Gamecocks are entering this season coming off of the most-winning season in gamecock football history. Officials say in honor of those wins, fans may also notice new signage on the stadium wall. "We're so excited about Coach Spurrier's 11 wins last season, we had a great football season and we've honored him with our all-time single season victory mark of 11 wins," said O'Connell.
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Fans will hope for the second win, and first home-game win of the season when the Gamecock's face-off against East Carolina at 12:21 p.m. on Saturday. University officials say football players and the band will be on the ‘Garnet Way' in the Old Farmers Market around 10:00 a.m. Gates open for tailgating at 8:00 a.m.