Final beam placed on Rice-Eccles Stadium expansion.

SALT LAKE CITY — The expansion of the Rice-Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah reached a new milestone Wednesday as the $80 million project nears completion.

The expansion on the south side of the stadium will allow 5,000 more fans to Ute football games, but it has the potential to do more.

On Wednesday, family members of the late Ken Garff signed the topping out steal beam installed in the expansion.

“Doing this in remembrance of my dad,” said Jennifer Folkerson.

Garff’s family pledged over $17 million to the project on the stadium’s south end zone.

Besides increasing stadium capacity to more than 51,000 fans, new facilities and a fan club will be finished later this year.

The university athletics program says the expansion will enhance the student-athlete experience — but it could do far more for Salt Lake City.

“What they’re doing right now at Rice-Eccles Stadium will really position that venue as one of the top venues, certainly in the nation,” said Utah Sports Commission’s Jeff Robbins.

While national sports events outside of football are already scheduled at the stadium, Robbins believes the expansion will help Salt Lake’s bid for another Winter Olympics.

“Who knows? Opening and closing ceremonies have been part of that [stadium] last time and anticipated this time. There might be even a chance to add something else there because it is such a great stadium,” Robbins said.

Before 2030 however, the expanded stadium is anticipated to bring more business downtown.

“That matters for people serving drinks at bars and meals at restaurants. They feel it at City Creek Center. They feel it at the hotels, as well,” said Downtown Alliance’s Dee Brewer.

The historic Olympic cauldron used during the 2002 ceremonies will be replaced Friday in front of the stadium.