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U. football stadium renamed Rice-Eccles to honor donors

SHARE U. football stadium renamed Rice-Eccles to honor donors

The football stadium at the University of Utah has been christened Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The name recognizes benefactors Robert L. Rice and George S. Eccles.Rice in 1972 gave $1 million to the U. to renovate the stadium.

Eccles, through the George S. and Dore Eccles Foundation, contributed $10 million toward the recent $52 million stadium expansion and renovation.

The new stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Games but it will bear a generic name during the Games, per Olympic requirements.

The stadium has been expanded to seat 46,500 people, although Games organizers believe temporary seating can boost its capacity to 50,000 seats.

U. President J. Bernard Machen said the Eccles' gift was unconditional.

"We had to ask them to put their name on it (the stadium)," Machen said.

The stadium will bear both names to recognize the Rice family's pioneering contributions as well as the Eccles' gift made in 1997 - $5 million up front and another $5 million "made in a challenge fashion," to spur other contributions, said Spencer F. Eccles, president of the George S. and Dore Eccles Foundation and chairman and chief executive officer of First Security Corp.

The second $5 million came after the U. raised $10 million from the private sector.

Rice-Eccles Stadium is the facility's third name. For 70 years, it was known as Ute Stadium. In 1972, it was named Rice Stadium to honor Rice's contributions.

David P. Gardner, Eccles Foundation chairman, who was named U. president one year after Rice's gift to renovate the football stadium, said, "In spite of his efforts, it took some while for that to pay off."

Gardner joked he spent many hours in Rice Stadium in the snow and cold enduring the U. football team's then-regular pastings from rival Brigham Young University.

"I've never forgotten how long those afternoons were," he said.

Rice, whose name has graced the stadium for 26 years, said he was honored his family name would be joined by the Eccles' on the stadium marquee.

"We have to bear in mind we would have never been able to raise the money for the renovation without the Eccles family. I feel honored to be partners with them," he said.

First Security Bank chief executive officer George S. Eccles died in 1982 at age 81. The son of entrepreneur David Eccles, George Eccles made numerous gifts to Utah civic, cultural and educational organizations in Utah.

The Eccles family has contributed more than $50 million to the U. and its colleges over the years.

Rice's $1 million contribution to the U. in 1972 was then the largest single gift made to the university. It would be worth approximately $3.9 million in 1998 dollars.

A $52 million revenue bond was issued to cover the renovation costs. The debt will be repaid by private contributions, university reserves, an $8 million user fee from the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and ticket sales.