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Q&A: Progress continues on Blue Devil Tower, Cameron Indoor

<p>Blue Devil Tower will open for Duke’s home opener Sept. 3 against N.C. Central, the centerpiece of a massive renovation project at Wallace Wade Stadium.</p>

Blue Devil Tower will open for Duke’s home opener Sept. 3 against N.C. Central, the centerpiece of a massive renovation project at Wallace Wade Stadium.

From the West Campus turf fields to Cameron Indoor Stadium, Duke’s athletic facilities have been undergoing a facelift during the past few years. The Chronicle’s Ryan Hoerger spoke with Mike Cragg—deputy director of athletics for operations—about progress on the construction projects across the athletics campus. Their conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

The Chronicle: Students came back from winter break and so much progress had been made on Blue Devil Tower inside Wallace Wade Stadium. How are things shaping up?

Mike Cragg: It is exciting every day to go out and see new windows and new walls and see it all coming to life. We are on track to be ready for the home opener on Sept. 3. It’s going to be an incredible change to everything about the gameday experience for football. It is 21 suites [all of which sold out in July], the President’s Box and a couple other suites. Then we have around 600 club seats in the building, and those are still being sold. We’ve got two options available on those—table-tops and club seats. Those are the outside seats, the part you can see from the stadium now.... The response by Duke fans has been tremendous. For us, we’re really going from zero to 100 in amenities and experience. Down on the concourse and the bowl level too, all of the seats on that side will become blue seats. Part of it will be under cover, as you can tell from that ledge that’s built out for the club seats.

We’re also in the middle of picking up the turf of our practice field and turning that into a grass field, which will better replicate the football stadium playing field. That’s ongoing, you’ll see construction there going on, so spring football practice will be in Pascal Field House and in some of Wallace Wade, which is a bit unusual.

TC: When you were studying the plans for the renovations, were there any other schools that you looked at as a guide for what you liked and wanted to create at Duke?

MC: It’s kind of a unique situation—a bowl is pretty unusual. The longevity of the building is fairly unique in college athletics as well. When it comes to the amenities and the tower, we studied Wake Forest a lot as a peer institution—at the time when they built theirs [in 2008 they were] a rising football program, meeting demand, anticipating demand. That’s probably the most like it. We looked at what Baylor’s done, looked at similar projects that were done at the time—Kentucky did another one. Those probably jump out the most.

TC: What was it like to see the football program keep pushing momentum forward with a bowl victory as all this construction is nearing its end?

MC: It’s been a long and exciting process. A lot of this dates back to the strategic plan that was made for athletics way back in 2007-08. When Dr. [Kevin] White came on board, one of the first things he asked us to do was put together a master facilities plan. Certainly a lot of the things that are now coming to life were a part of that. It was definitely part of his vision and also President Brodhead and Tallman Trask, some of those initial walk-throughs, I remember it like yesterday, their thoughts on what we need to do. It’s been a great team effort, so to see it come this close, it has a lot of personal satisfaction and I think it will have a lot of institutional satisfaction of a job well done.

TC: Switching to Cameron Indoor Stadium, how are things progressing with the frontal addition?

MC: Everything is geared toward August with all of our projects right now. The exterior and actual shell of the building will be done well before August, and then we’ve got some additional portions of it for occupancy, we’re sprinkling Cameron—fire-safety sprinkling. That’ll start after the basketball season’s over. The shell of the building will be done quite a bit ahead of schedule, and then all of our branding and displays and creation of Cameron tour and experience will all be done in those months leading up to August, so it’ll be ready before we start volleyball season.

TC: How is the new space going to be used?

MC: The second level will be a hospitality space, so game days but also usable on non-game days for private gatherings throughout the year. The first floor, we’re going to create more intentionally a Cameron tour and experience, and that’ll be the launching point of that, which will take fans on more self-guided tours at first throughout Cameron and some of the basketball history, tying in the basketball museum that we have now and some of the other things we have around the concourse. Obviously on game days it will serve as the lobby but also player will call and some of the things that serve as operations of the building. [There will be] new bathrooms, and we also create a new additional locker room, just for additional space when we have visiting teams or a tournament or different things that go on in Cameron.

TC: There’s a preliminary sketch of Duke’s new softball stadium online. What’s the next step for getting that project started?

MC: We have another presentation to the Trustees in February, so that will be the seeking approval for design and construction. All they’ve approved to date is the site selection, and part of that is showing them some preliminary renderings and depictions and where it would go and how it would fit into the planning of East Campus, which has been done well under the direction and vision of Tallman Trask. [Construction] will start hopefully in April of this year, it’s about a 17-month project. We’re committed to the program up and running on our own playing field in August 2017.

TC: The baseball team is going to be moving downtown to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park for home games this season. How does that affect how you view Jack Coombs Field from a facility development standpoint?

MC: For us, it really became a philosophical ‘What’s the most impactful use of money and partnering and relationships?’ In this day and age, to have a competitive stadium venue, we would have probably put in $15-20 million minimum. Obviously, Duke has been very tied in to downtown Durham’s revitalization and over the years had started playing games there, so it seemed like it was a great opportunity.... It’s really been a great partnership that’s really coming to a great bloom now with us essentially moving full-time down there. We’ll still practice here and we did the turf field in Coombs [in 2011], which we’re glad we did. It’ll still be a practice venue, it’ll still be a potential game venue when we have conflicts, but this is going to be unique. Very few programs can say they’ve got one of the top minor league stadiums in the country and a partnership with a successful organization like we have.”

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