Regents approve higher costs for new Gopher football stadiumby Art Hughes, Minnesota Public Radio
The University of Minnesota Board of Regents has signed off on basic design details for a new on-campus football stadium. The action also hikes the original price of the stadium by $40 million. The increase goes mainly for add-ons that weren't in the initial design. Part of the increase covers unexpected problems with the building site and the rising cost of building materials.
Minneapolis, Minn. — A red brick and masonry wall around the entire structure is one of the more expensive improvements university officials approved. U of M President Robert Bruninks says the estimated $13 million exterior will make the stadium a better fit with existing university buildings.
The university plans to develop the surrounding area as it adds on projected biomedical research facilities and other buildings.
"We think these improvements will greatly enhance the experience of people who come to this stadium, improve the aesthetics of the stadium and its integration into the University of Minnesota campus, and to incorporate one of our Regents' resolutions regarding sustainable, green architectural principles and construction," said Bruininks.
The add-ons include a more sophisticated storm water management system that officials say will improve the 10-acre project's environmental compatibility.
The new costs also reflect a size expansion of about 50,000 square feet, in order to add one inch to the width of each seat and three inches to the aisles.
University planners say they expect to add on to the 50,000-seat stadium some time in the future. An upper deck expansion could add 20,000 to 30,000 seats. To do that, they say it's necessary to beef up the footings beneath the structure.
Vice President for University Services Kathleen O'Brien says such structural and aesthetic expenses cannot feasibly be done after the stadium is built.
"Deliberate, sensible decisions to make first cost investments in the stadium -- to do it right so it will work for the future. We're putting our money where we can't put it later," said O'Brien.
Other cost increases come from additional construction work to prepare the site, which is less able than originally predicted to support such a massive building.
Most of the cost -- some $24 million -- will have to be paid over time by the U's athletics department. University financial officials say the remainder can be made up by maximizing interest and market return on the project money before it's spent.
The new expenses boost the budget for the stadium to nearly $289 million. The state agreed last legislative session to pay about $136 million of that. The university pays for the rest through private donations, student fees and borrowing.
The university secured a $35 million naming rights agreement with TCF Bank. Now it has to raise an additional $35 million. University Regent David Metzen, an unwavering stadium booster, believes the new design will inspire donations.
"I really believe, from the bottom of my heart, when people see this stadium and see what's planned, the money will follow it. And I think the fundraising is going to get easier and easier," said Metzen.
The regents were overwhelmingly positive about the cost increases -- except for one. Regent Frank Berman, a business lawyer and university alumnus, says he can't see how increasing the athletic department's debt service by some $1.5 million per year helps the university be any more competitive on the football field.
"I don't understand the fiscal credibility of the proposal. I don't understand how we will get competitive. I don't understand how we can justify this level of spending, given the representations that have been made to the state to assure their contributions to the project," said Berman.
News of the project increases comes days after Athletic Director Joel Maturi fired Gopher football coach Glen Mason. Head basketball coach Dan Monson stepped down under pressure about a month ago. This leaves the university's two biggest athletic moneymakers without permanent leaders, a possible factor in securing donations.
President Bruininks assured regents and the public that the challenge is not insurmountable.
"This is a gang that can shoot straight. We can manage this problem," said Bruininks. "I think the financial plan you have in front of you is credible. It shows remarkable progress in private fundraising, and is fiscally sound."
University officials hope to complete stadium construction in time for the 2009 football season.
- All Things Considered, 01/03/2007, 5:53 p.m.