BOCA RATON, Fla. — When Florida Atlantic was seeking a signature theme for its new on-campus stadium, officials looked toward Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia.
Bulldogs games are played "Between the Hedges," a reference to the bushes that have lined the stadium since 1929. The Owls were looking for a similar uniqueness.
"We thought we could have the best stadium in a subtropical climate, so we wanted to theme it that way with palm trees/beach club approach," FAU Athletic Director Craig Angelos said.
"Palm trees are unique, and I wanted to put them as close to the field as possible. That way, we'd be playing 'between the palms.' "
And that's how a theme for the 30,000-seat stadium was born.
FAU is in the final stages of a project that was part of Howard Schnellenberger's master plan when he accepted the chore of building a football program in 1999.
On Saturday, the $70 million, 30,000-seat stadium will be unveiled, with FAU facing Western Kentucky at 4 p.m.
And it will happen "Between the Palms."
From last week - when the stadium received its certificate of occupancy and was turned over to the university - to the first game Saturday, the stadium will go through its final tweaks. It has risen in the northeast corner of campus, its signature a 145-foot press box tower visible from miles around.
"It quite literally takes your breath away to see this come out of the ground in one year," FAU President Mary Jane Saunders said. "To see the details in it, the FAU logo in the seats, the scoreboard with the palm trees and the size of the scoreboard it's beyond belief."
The tropical theme is most evident in the more than 300 palm trees in and around the stadium, including the royal palms and beach sand in both corners near the south end zone.
Crushed sea shells are used as ground covering in several other areas.
The theme is carried to the beach awnings that cover the walkway where the team will enter the field and the 16,000-square-foot tiki bar on the west concourse that will provide island fare and tropical drinks.
But nothing says South Florida better than the deep blue ocean - FAU is touting its stadium as the only one in the country that offers a view of the Atlantic Ocean.
"Majestic" is how Schnellenberger described the view and stadium.
That press box tower stands taller than any building on campus. It houses four levels of suites, including a 5,000-square-foot multi-purpose premier level suite that will be used for banquets and wedding receptions, among other events. The tower also includes 24 luxury suites, the president's suite that seats up to 90 guests and a press box level.
The ocean is visible from each level.
"We are always trying to recruit highly qualified students," Saunders said. "When they show this on TV in Massachusetts and New York and Michigan and you see those palm trees and the announcer says, 'I can see the Atlantic Ocean from the press box,' we hope that will attract highly qualified students to our school."
The stadium is enclosed with the exception of the two corners of the south end zone, where Schnellenberger someday envisions expanding the capacity to 40,000.
"That's where 10,000 seats will go the year we average a sellout," he said.
The south end zone seats 5,000 and is where students will sit, including the band, with the east side of the stadium handling any overflow. FAU expects more than 7,000 students for Saturday's inaugural game.
Every seat in the stadium has a chair back, the lone exception being where the band will sit.
Fans will be able to watch replays and keep up with statistics on the third-largest on-campus video board in the state, behind Florida and Florida State. The 30-foot-by-50-foot board is twice the size of Central Florida's.
The board is flanked by two large palm trees outlined in red lighting.
Several locker rooms, a merchandise room, an interview room, coaches offices and a multi-purpose recruiting room sit beneath the stadium. Outside the stadium, palm tree-lined walkways lead to the gates and 10,218 spots are designated for parking in several lots throughout campus.
"It's intimate. It's got high-end furnishings at every stop," Angelos said. "The palm trees, parking is right there, the decorum of it, being able to see the ocean from the suites ... it's better than we ever imagined."
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