LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — At 11 a.m. today, University of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich will meet with the media to unveil plans for a reported $55 million expansion to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

But he made just as important a presentation on Thursday night. The 50-Yard-Line Dinner is an annual event held in the stadium for major donors to the Cardinal Athletic Fund. Members of the media aren’t allowed.

And this year, Jurich wanted to use the occasion to let his program’s biggest supporters be the first to hear some major news — the athletic department is ready to move forward with an expansion to close the north end of the stadium and to expand the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex beneath it. And that group, as it has been before, will be the first line of fundraising.

U of L trustee Jonathan Blue was the first to Tweet the news, complete with the hashtag, #ClosetheBowl.

Blue said via his Twitter account @1CardsFan that the expansion will include state of the art field-level suites, improved club-level facilities and more.

Others at the meeting who did not want to be named for this story told WDRB that no definite timetable was given for the expansion, and estimates for final capacity were between 10,000 to 12,000 additional seats in the 55,000-seat facility, which could make it the state’s largest football stadium once the University of Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium moves to around 61,000 after current enhancements are completed.

Nor has fundraising begun for the project, which would be the second major expansion since the stadium opened in 1998.

The expansion was included in a list of potential projects presented to the U of L board of trustees as a “capital plan” in June. Several times since then, Jurich has said in interviews that the department has been studying the feasibility of an expansion.

Last night’s dinner was held on the terrace in the south end of the stadium, on a warm, breezy night with the stadium lit up and the lights of downtown Louisville visible in the distance.

I wandered in afterward. It’s easy to find where such parties are held. You just follow the red carpet in from the parking lot. The dinner included a pair of stages, and the equivalent of clear holiday-style patio lights hung around the terrace.

Over the years, Jurich and his development staff have refined such events to an art form. They have raised more than a quarter-billion dollars for the university’s various athletic construction projects, including a $14 million academic center which is already being built under the south end of the stadium, below where the boosters partied on Thursday night.

Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium was completed at a cost of $79 million in 1998, and was expanded to 55,000 seats at a cost of $63 million in 2010. Should this expansion be completed, seating capacity could rise to as many as 67,000 and the total facility cost to better than $190 million.

But the exact numbers are a ways off. Walking out of last night’s dinner, Jurich told me, “It went well. Now we just have to raise the money.”

Renderings of the expansion show a three-decked addition to the stadium where the Schnellenberger complex now stands, with field- and club-level seating and an expanded weight room and conditioning center behind the seats. Two large video screens rise behind the structure.

The renderings also show a large, covered gathering space for fans behind the stadium.

Jurich will provide more details when he outlines the project for the media on Friday, but the details likely aren’t all hammered down. While no target date for completion of the project has been announced, an ideal date would be Labor Day 2019, when U of L is scheduled to begin its season at home against Notre Dame.

The recent announcement of a three-game series with Indiana is the kind of regional rivalry game that could help guarantee large crowds in an expanded facility. Traveling fans from visiting teams help fill the additional seats, as does a growing season-ticket base.

U of L also has home games every other year against Kentucky, Florida State and Clemson.

Speaking with Jim Ramsey and Mike Rutherford on their 93.9 The Ville radio program in June, Jurich said of the expansion under consideration, “It would probably be the last thing I do here as far as an expansion.”

“I don’t want to do it until we know we can do it right and have it first-class,” Jurich said on the program. “I want it to be something much, much more than bowling in an end zone. Anybody can do that with bleachers; I’m not going to do that.”

Stay tuned to WDRB News and WDRB.com for more details from Tom Jurich and Bobby Petrino’s meeting with the media on Friday.

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