San Diego State plans to hit ground running on new stadium

Derek Grice’s 6-year-old son is excited for construction to begin on San Diego State’s new football stadium.

He is not alone.

It doesn’t matter how old you are, there’s something that captures the imagination watching bulldozers, dump trucks, excavators, backhoes, graders, pile drivers and tower cranes make something out of nothing.

Sale of the 135-acre Mission Valley property to the university passed a final City Council vote Tuesday.

Escrow is expected to close within a week after a 30-day referendum period, meaning construction of SDSU’s $310 million, 35,000-seat multi-use stadium could begin the first week of August.

Target for completion: Sept. 3, 2022, the date of SDSU’s season opener against Arizona.

Grice, SDSU’s executive associate athletic director for Mission Valley development, was hired 15 months ago to be point man on the project.

“It’s an aggressive schedule, but I think I’ve told everybody that aggressive is who we are,” said Grice, who spent four years at Georgia Tech overseeing facilities, operations and events before coming here. “Just because it’s aggressive does not mean it’s not doable.

“We have a good plan in place and we have the right partners on board to execute that.”

The general contractor for the project is Clark Construction, which also served that role for Petco Park and has an extensive background in stadium construction. Gensler is the architect for the project.

“Nobody said it would be easy,” said John David Wicker, SDSU’s director of athletics. “We knew it wouldn’t be easy. It’s been a 3 1/2-year slog, but it’s going to be worth it.”

By San Diego standards, the project is moving at lightning speed.

The new stadium will rise northwest of the current SDCCU Stadium, which will remain open for the next two football seasons.

“We are ready to mobilize as quickly as possible,” Grice said.

Within a day of escrow closing, the project is scheduled to begin with a construction fence surrounding the area.

The fence will encompass virtually the entire parking lot on the western half of the property.

SDSU will have the western half of the SDCCU Stadium parking lot fenced off for construction of new stadium.

Boundaries will be Friars Road to the north and the trolley overpass to the south. It will be bordered by the west stadium entrance road on the west and extend east to the main entrance, with fencing hugging the road that encircles SDCCU Stadium.

According to Grice, the first month of construction will involve setting up the fencing and boundaries of the construction site and begin clearing the parking lot, with demolition of asphalt, concrete curbs and parking lights.

A primary focus will be relocating wet and dry utilities and establishing temporary reconnection of utilities back to SDCCU Stadium so it can remain operational.

In September, the plan is to continue parking lot demolition and relocation of utilities and beginning site excavation and accumulation of dirt for grading and leveling. Dirt will come both from onsite “borrow pits” and offsite.

In October, excavation of the actual stadium footprint begins.

In November, Grice said cranes and other major equipment should arrive, preparing of stone column ground improvements to help with soil stabilization.

In December, pouring of the foundation is scheduled to begin.

The first quarter of 2021 is when the stadium should begin to take shape.

“The people of San Diego will start to see some vertical construction at the turn of the year,” Grice said.

By spring, the pouring of the lower bowl should begin on the east side and wrap around to the north.

“I think you’ll start to see it move fairly quickly (then),” Grice said. “You’re going to be able to drive (on Interstate 8) and see it by the way it perches up there. When you drive by you’ll be able to go, ‘Oh, wow, look at how much work they’ve gotten done.’ ”

• Asked when the gold shovels are scheduled for groundbreaking, Wicker said, “We’re still working on how all that will work out.

“The groundbreaking that we’d love to see for a project of this magnitude (can’t be done) in the middle of a pandemic, but I’m sure we’ll have something worked out.”

• SDSU fans will be able to monitor progress from their phones and laptops via a livestream hookup.

“We are definitely working on a (multi-angle) Construction Cam so people can keep up,” Wicker said. “My assumption would be the day we start construction the camera goes live.”

• The stadium represents the first phase of the Mission Valley project. A 34-acre river park is also among the early portions of the development.

“It will definitely be under construction by the time the stadium opens,” Wicker said. “I don’t know how complete it will be.”

• The events calendar will have to be adjusted for both construction limitations and coronavirus concerns.

Things like a used car sale in the northeast corner of the parking lot could still happen.

There were summer soccer matches that were canceled because of the pandemic. Also, SDSU had planned to schedule some fall concerts to help offset costs for running the facility, but those also were lost amid the crisis.

“It’s a 55-year-old stadium that hasn’t been maintained very well,” Wicker said. “You really have to determine, you know, how much do you want to use the stadium? You don’t want to push it too hard. If you do, you might create some kind of significant maintenance issue.”

“There’s finding that balance of generating some revenue to help offset the expenses of running it, but not putting so many events in there that all of the sudden you have a major system fail.”

Added Wicker: “It will be safe. We’ll make sure the scoreboard runs and the video board works and all those types of things, but we’re not going to put any additional money into the stadium. We’re putting everything into the new one.”

• One reason the northwest location of the parking lot was chosen for the new stadium is because SDCCU Stadium could remain open while the new stadium was being constructed.

It also is on higher ground, minimizing contamination concerns from the nearby oil tank farm.

“We haven’t seen anything that is cause for concern in the stadium site,” Grice said.

• Wicker said SDCCU Stadium will be dismantled virtually as soon as the 2021 college football season concludes.

“We’re still working through the details on the dismantle plan,” Grice said. “The site team is working through those details at the moment.

“The southeast corner of the new stadium and the northeast corner of the old stadium are relatively close. It’s a tight quarter for us to work in, but they don’t physically touch. … The main thing right now is that we have a footprint that allows us to continue to work and continue to play in the stadium.”

• Construction will close off access to the west tunnel, which is where equipment is brought in and players enter. That will necessitate relocating the Warrior Walk — among other things — to SDCCU Stadium’s east entrance beneath the scoreboard.

• The new facility is being called Aztec Stadium for the time being. An official name is not expected to be announced for more than a year.

“We’re out talking to a variety of companies about naming rights,” Wicker said. “There’s no specific timetable on when we would have that wrapped up.”

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