What a ‘major modernization’ of Williams-Brice could mean for USC football home

South Carolina athletics — and the Gamecocks’ football stadium in particular — could be on the verge of big changes.

The university announced Tuesday the first steps of a proposed development project they say will include a “major modernization of Williams-Brice Stadium.” USC filed a request for information (RFI) with the state that will explore the potential of developing over 800 acres of land located mostly adjacent to Williams-Brice and Colonial Life Arena.

Those expected future agreements to develop that USC-owned land would “generate significant private funding for improvements to Williams-Brice Stadium, allowing for the expansion of the venue’s use for other public events in addition to football games,” according to a new release.

What that eventually means for the future of the Gamecocks’ venues remains to be seen. For Williams-Brice Stadium, it could lead to accelerating such things as adding more luxury suites and modernizing seating, concourses and bathrooms throughout the venue.

“This is a project potentially that is a game changer,” USC athletic director Ray Tanner said. “We have a blank canvas.”

Any project involving USC’s undeveloped land is unlikely to break ground for another 18 months or more as it goes through the state process required for an undertaking that senior USC officials estimate could include an investment of “billions of dollars.”

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move forward on needed facility improvements through a partnership that doesn’t require public financing,” Ed Walton, South Carolina’s Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer, said in a news release.

The potential behind such a project, though, is largely unheard of in college athletics and would be on the forefront of what universities can do with their existing spaces and improving gameday experiences.

University officials have pointed to the redevelopments near stadiums in Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Chicago and Atlanta as potential models for what’s possible in Columbia. The Atlanta Braves, for example, recently moved into Truist Field, which resulted in the creation of The Battery District — an area in and around the stadium that includes shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and more.

South Carolina has not released specific details on what could go into the redeveloped land, but the understanding is hotels, restaurants and other businesses could be incorporated into the project on the land that’s around or near Williams-Brice Stadium.

“We don’t know exactly how it’s going to come back in an RFI, but a billion dollars — or more than a billion dollars — is a lot of money,” Tanner said Tuesday. “That’s not just football or building a new stadium. That’s other things that go along with that. ... It’s not just about redoing a stadium. That’s a component of this project.”

South Carolina’s football stadium was built in 1934 and has undergone numerous changes and expansions over those almost 90 years. Gamecock Park and a new in-stadium video board debuted in 2012. Springs Brooks Plaza opened in 2015 and beautified the grounds and areas immediately surrounding the stadium.

New premium-seating areas and club spaces were added in 2020. This past season saw the unveiling of ribbon boards, a new sound system and an LED lights show. The next steps appear to be adding more luxury seating.

Williams-Brice Stadium currently has the second-fewest amount of suites (18) in the Southeastern Conference, according to one senior university official, while the waiting list for such spaces is over 100.

That said, Tanner cautioned the potential additions of luxury boxes or variations of such spaces is not meant to price out average fans and that improvements, too, could come to supplement their gameday experiences.

“I would say this concerns the average fan as well,” Tanner said. “we’re not turning the entire stadium into premium seating, but we may have an opportunity to enhance the general seating.”

Colonial Life Arena, too, could be in line for upgrades and new additions, though what those might entail are less clear. University officials see the space stretching from the basketball arena, over the newly constructed Greene Street Bridge and stretching toward the Congaree River as a potential area for growth.

However, those changes that could come around Colonial Life Arena would be part of later phase of this overall project.