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End of an Era: Pitt Stadium's final game signals first step of many changes

Friday, November 12, 1999

By Shelly Anderson, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

When Pitt's football game against Notre Dame ends tomorrow and the sellout crowd disperses into the night, Pitt Stadium won't disintegrate into dust. The scoreboard won't turn into a giant pumpkin.

Still, the final game ever played in Pitt Stadium will mark the end of an era and the beginning of a lot of changes in Pitt athletics.

The Panthers football team will move its non-game-day headquarters to a new training, practice and sports medicine complex on the South Side. It will move into a new football-only stadium on the North Shore and share it with the Steelers.

The 10 or so acres housing Pitt Stadium will be used for the Petersen Events Center, student housing and green space.

The Panthers men's and women's basketball teams will play at The Pete, and students will be able to work out in a recreation center there.

It's all the dream-come-true of Athletic Director Steve Pederson, Chancellor Mark Nordenberg and others.

For a year or two, though, it mostly will be a time of transition.

Nothing much will happen for a few weeks. Pitt will continue to meet, train and practice at the stadium leading up to its regular-season football finale Nov. 27 at West Virginia.

Dec. 1, demolition of 74-year-old Pitt Stadium will begin, although things will move slowly.

"They're going to start at the far [north] end of the stadium," Pederson said. "And when they talk about demolition there's a lot of preparation work, too. And it's not going to be like an implosion.

"They're just going to start taking it down a little at a time."

The concrete from the stadium will be ground and left on the site to help form the foundation for the new projects.

Should the Panthers beat Notre Dame and West Virginia and get a bowl bid, they will continue to practice at the stadium through December.

In fact, all of the athletic department employees housed in the stadium -- administrators, football staff, media relations and others -- will remain in their offices until Feb. 1. Athletes will be able to use the Duratz Center weight and training equipment until then, too.

The employees will move into Bruce Hall in the center of campus for about two years, until Peterson Center is complete. One exception is the ticket office, which will move into Sutherland Hall, just above the stadium after the Notre Dame game.

Because the new football facility on the South Side won't be ready until sometime next summer, Pitt will improvise for spring workouts, Pederson said.

Weight, training and meeting rooms, as well as coaches' offices, will be set up in Sutherland Hall and, a short distance away, in Trees Hall. Practices will be held at one of three sites, the indoor Cost Center, the outdoor field behind Trees or the outdoor fields on the South Side, which would mean a bus ride. Coach Walt Harris will decide.

"We're kind of redoing a whole big area in Trees and Sutherland halls to house all of what they normally would have," Pederson said.

In the meantime, Pitt's men's and women's track teams will be homeless for their outdoor season next spring. They will continue to use Fitzgerald Field House and the Cost Center for practice, but won't be able to hold their two annual home meets, the Pitt Invitational and Panther Relays.

The men's and women's soccer teams, which play in the fall, are losing their Pitt Stadium home. Pederson hopes to build a facility on campus for the track and soccer teams, perhaps in time for next fall.

"They're probably the ones that I'm most concerned about right now," he said of those teams. "We think we have a good plan. We're just trying to finalize a deal on some land.

"We want to have a complex that houses a soccer field in the middle of a track with throwing areas. It would be a real first-class thing."

If the complex can't be completed by next fall, the soccer teams would continue to practice on the grass fields behind Trees Hall but would have to find a place to play off-campus.

The football team shouldn't have those problems. It is scheduled to move lock, stock and barrel into the South Side complex in time for training camp in August.

For 2000, the Panthers will play their home football games in Three Rivers Stadium, sharing it with the Steelers and Pirates.

In 2001, the state-of-the-art, football-only stadium will be finished, and t he Panthers will move there permanently for their home games.

The project will be complete when The Pete opens, probably sometime during the 2001-02 basketball season.

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