JONESBORO — When Terry Mohajir returned to lead his alma mater’s athletic department three years ago, he peered across the landscape and didn’t notice much change from two decades before.
“Let’s just put it this way,” Mohajir said this week. “Except for a portion of the south end zone facility, the stadium was exactly the stadium it was when I played my senior year.”
No. 24 Missouri at Arkansas State
WHEN 6 p.m. Saturday
WHERE Centennial Bank Stadium, Jonesboro
RECORDS ASU 0-1; Missouri 1-0
THE LINE Missouri by 10 1/2
RADIO KASR-FM, 92.7, in Little Rock/Conway; KFIN-FM, 107.9, in Jonesboro
That was in 1991. Plenty is different now.
When Arkansas State hosts Missouri at 6 p.m. Saturday at Centennial Bank Stadium, it’ll be just the second time a standing member of the SEC has visited ASU (Ole Miss won there in 2001) and the 24th-ranked Tigers will be the highest-ranked team ever to visit the stadium.
It also will mark a new beginning for Centennial Bank Stadium, which has been the home to ASU football on the north edge of its campus since 1974. A makeover with a south end zone operations center came in 2002, followed by a boost with an indoor practice facility that opened just north of the stadium this summer.
But the 40,000-square-foot, $25.9 million Johnny Allison Tower, named after the former letterman who donated $5 million to the project, has changed the look of ASU’s football stadium and, in addition to the $11 million indoor, the two signify the largest construction upgrades for ASU athletics since the opening of the Convocation Center in 1984.
The new facility includes 18 suites, 42 loge box seats and 300 club seats. There is also new press seating, new TV and radio booths, new concessions, restrooms and a room for scoreboard operations. No longer will ASU personnel have to sit in a trailer in the parking lot to run the video board.
“As far as amenities, they’re as nice as any football stadium in the country,” Mohajir said. “Maybe not as big, but as nice as any stadium in the country.”
Workers were still putting on the finishing touches Tuesday afternoon, but come Saturday the lights should be on, guests will enjoy new food options and beer should flow from the taps inside the premium seating areas.
When fans walk through the new front gates — named after a family who donated money to the project — Mohajir will let out more of a sigh of relief than a boastful proclamation of accomplishment.
“I’m excited that people are going to see something new, but I just feel like we’re behind,” he said. “I think we’re catching up now. So, I don’t really look at it as it’s a sense of accomplishment. It’s like, ‘OK, this is where we need to be.’ We need to keep moving forward.”
The press box is key to that progress.
When Mohajir arrived in October 2012, plans for an indoor practice facility and a football operations center had been unveiled. ASU went forth with the indoor facility, known as the Student Activity Center, but an operations center was placed on the back burner.
The reason: ASU hopes money generated by the additional premium seating will pay for itself and help kickstart its next project.
No groundbreaking has been set on the $24 million operations center that will house new football offices, locker rooms, weight rooms and therapy areas, but Mohajir hopes what will be unveiled Saturday night will help it get closer.
“We just have to raise the money,” he said.
Until then, ASU will be content with opening its a new facility by welcoming an SEC opponent.
That, in itself, was tricky enough.
Mohajir considered offers from Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis to move the game. The best offer came from the St. Louis Sports Commission, which according to a source offered between $1.5 million and $2 million to move the game to Busch Stadium.
Mohajir declined St. Louis’ offer last August, announcing it officially when Allison gave his donation. Ground was broken less than two months later on the press box, and ASU fans will christen the renovations Saturday with a high-profile opponent in town.
“That should be thrilling for our fans and thrilling for the state,” Mohajir said. “It should be thrilling for economic revenue, for people coming into town.”