There’s a striking parallel between the UAB football program and its new stadium currently under construction.
The Blazers rose from the metaphorical ground following their dismissal and subsequent reinstatement and now concrete and steel are rising from the depths of the earth to create a new home for UAB.
It’s been almost two years since the official groundbreaking ceremony and Protective Stadium is embedding itself within the Birmingham skyline at a breakneck pace.
Birmingham-based construction firm Brasfield & Gorrie was awarded a $179 million bid in December and the stadium is finally taking shape. The press box and lighting steel are in place and the concrete seating tracks extending out of the bowl have been poured.
Mark Ingram was hired as UAB athletic director in 2015 and securing a new stadium became a passion project for the former Tennessee long snapper and long-time athletics administrator. A hint of giddiness like a child on Christmas morning fills Ingram’s voice when discussing the progress of Protective Stadium.
“I’ve tried very hard to not go there every single day,” Ingram said. “I limit my drive-by to once a week because I know if I’m not careful, it’ll seem like nothing is happening. When you go a little less frequently, you can really see significant changes.”
“It’s been fun watching as the earth-work happened last year and you can see the shape of the bowl and stadium,” he added. “Now Brasfield & Gorrie have got in there and they really work fast. It looks very much like a stadium now. Especially with the lights and press box up.”
UAB head coach Bill Clark was one of the stadium’s biggest supporters and got a sneak peek in the summer before heading into the 2020 season.
“I got to go over there before we started camp and Mr. (James) Gorrie gave me a tour,” Clark said. “I got to see from up top. We got some really good drone footage. Every time I go by and get to see it, it seems like it’s getting better and better. I don’t think that we are going to be able to put into words what that is going to do for our program.”
The lasting effect of Protective Stadium will not only be felt by the UAB football program but Birmingham and Jefferson County as a whole. Tad Snider, Executive Director & CEO of BJCC Authority, expects the project, along with other planned BJCC renovations, to have a greater impact on the long-term development of the metropolitan area.
“The BJCC is a major driver of tourism and economic vitality in Birmingham and Jefferson County,” Snider said. “The stadium will enhance local residents’ quality of life and be a catalyst for additional economic development in northern Birmingham. The stadium is just one part of the projects underway at the BJCC, with a $100 million renovation of Legacy Arena equally as impactful to the City of Birmingham and the BJCC.”
Snider also confirmed the project is on schedule to be completed by UAB’s season-opener.
“There are no significant changes,” Ingram said. “Minor tweaks and edits here, move a wall a few feet here or there or decide to do built-in cabinetry or countertop in this area instead of the other. Always some modifications but nothing significant.”
“It’s a state of the art facility and a beautiful building in an incredible setting downtown,” he added. “It will, by far, be the best facility in our conference and it will be one of the nicest stadiums in the country regardless of what level or conference.”
The Blazers currently three nonconference opponents — at Georgia and Tulane in Weeks 2 and 4 and an October 2 home contest against Liberty — scheduled for the 2021 season and an opening in the first week of the season. Ingram hinted at a forthcoming statement regarding the season-opener but also tempered expectations relative to a prominent foe.
“We have games scheduled almost until 2030,” he said. “We’ve scheduled a lot of the games that we’re playing now — and next year and the year after — before the stadium was even a real thing. The schedule for next year was not designed with the new stadium in mind.”
“It’s not as storybook as you might like it to be but we got some ideas on Game 1. While it hasn’t been announced, we’re pretty close to a place where we might announce in the near future.”
Regardless of whom UAB selects to start a new home winning streak, Ingram believes the inaugural game will carry enough significance in and of itself.
“I think it’ll be an exciting moment for everybody in the great Birmingham area and really the entire state,” Ingram said. “It’s a huge win for our community to have a facility that can host all sorts of events — concerts and Super ‘7 Championships — including UAB football.”
It’s less than 350 days until Protective Stadium opens for its first UAB football game and Ingram may or may not have a few surprises in store for the inaugural contest.
“Can’t reveal all of our secrets at once,” he said. “The timing of each surprise has to be its’ own. We don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, or the Komodo out of the bag in this case.”