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Artist rendition of potential on campus Gophers football stadium.

An architectural rendering shows what Saturday afternoons on campus could look like.

Stadium talk builds

By Rick Moore

From M, spring 2004

Stadium, stadium, stadium. Twins, Vikings, Gophers. If you live in Minnesota, you've been hearing of the need--from perceived to urgent--for new baseball and football stadiums for those teams. When the Twins and Vikings aren't pressing the issue, which isn't often, it seems that the press and politicians are keeping the idea afloat. Right now, all three teams play in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, a building whose honeymoon apparently expired around the time of the Minnesota Twins' second World Series victory in 1991. Although their leases in the Metrodome don't expire until 2011, all three entities have been dreaming of greener pastures--real grass or synthetic--for quite some time now. As for the University of Minnesota and its Golden Gopher football program, any talk of a new stadium had taken a back seat to its academic priorities. But when Governor Tim Pawlenty convened a Stadium Screening Committee to solicit and discuss stadium proposals, and with the University facing the need to figure out--fairly soon--its football home beyond 2011, the University stepped forward as a fully vested player in the stadium talks. What follows is a closer examination of some of the key issues involved with building an on-campus stadium and where the University stands on each.

If you build it, they will come...to campus

The Metrodome has been a serviceable--if antiseptic--gridiron home for the Gophers for two decades. But at the Dome, the University can't provide a Big Ten collegiate football experience like students have at "The Big House" at the University of Michigan or at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison (okay, Badger fans would have fun anywhere). It's akin to listening to Pavarotti at the Minneapolis Convention Center versus the Guthrie or the Orpheum theaters. Supporters feel that an on-campus stadium, in addition to bringing alumni back to campus, would build community and strengthen pride. And, as U athletic director Joel Maturi points out, athletic events often serve as a college's "front door." According to surveys, more people first experience the University through athletic and cultural events than any other avenue. And it might make sense in terms of dollars. A stadium owned and operated by the University would generate additional sources of revenue through parking, concessions, suite rental, advertising, sponsorship agreements, and perhaps increased ticket sales.

Stadium at a glance

Location
The University's Huron Avenue parking complex, just north of University Avenue and east of Oak Street.

Design
An open-air, horseshoe-shaped stadium with 50,000 seats and a capacity to expand to 80,000 seats. The stadium would have a collegiate look and feel with a brick facade and two landscaped plazas.

Parking
Existing, new, and State Fairgrounds satellite parking would accommodate projected game-day requirements of about 17,000 spaces.

Cost
Total project cost of $222 million. The cost includes $180.1 million for the stadium, $16.8 million for site preparation, $25.1 million for district improvements.

Why maroon and gold clash with Red

If the Minnesota Vikings are seeking a new outdoor stadium, why should a second stadium be built to house the Gophers, or vice versa? First off, the Vikings and their owner Red McCombs aren't nearly as concerned with a stadium being situated on the U's Twin Cities campus as the Gophers are. And this whole issue, you might recall, has already been discussed at great length. Back in 2002, a joint Gopher-Vikings stadium task force was assembled to examine the feasibility of a joint-use stadium. The final verdict? The Vikings determined that a stadium that would fit the University's needs would not fit theirs, and the University concurs. "Their [the Vikings'] mission is significantly different than our mission" as a collegiate institution, says Maturi. A Vikings stadium would have to be much grander, not to mention much larger. It would occupy 1.7 million square feet (compared to 600,000 square feet for a Gopher-only facility) and would be twice as tall (picture another Moos Tower at the east end of campus), which would greatly alter the feel of campus. In a joint-use stadium, the University would also have less control over-and revenue from-sponsorship and advertising.

Making 2 + 2 + 2 = $222 million

Assuming broad agreement that a new, on-campus, outdoor football stadium would be a great addition for the University, there is still the matter of funding. Talks with T. Denny Sanford, the U alum in South Dakota who earlier had suggested a contribution of $35 million--which turned into a more conditional offer that did not meet the University's needs--have ground to a halt. Regardless, President Bob Bruininks is confident that the University can raise a significant share of the stadium's cost through private gifts--from individual contributions to corporate sponsorships--that otherwise wouldn't come to the University. As of this writing, the University is developing a finance plan that focuses on a mix of new resources to fund and operate a stadium, including private funding, stadium and parking revenues (to offset future costs), and student support. Students, faculty, and staff have had a history of supporting projects such as Memorial Stadium and Northrop Auditorium, and the U plans to discuss options for student support that come with a tangible benefit. While it hopes to be able to raise a majority of the costs through private sources, the University is not closing the door on having some portion of the stadium "covered by non-private sources," says Richard Pfutzenreuter, the U's chief financial officer. Pfutzenreuter presented one scenario to the stadium committee that would require a minimum burden for the state. Rather than a state contribution of, say, 40 percent or about $90 million, the University could issue its own bonds backed by a dedicated state revenue stream, and the state would contribute the principal-and-interest cost of approximately $7 million per year for the life of the bonds. Whether the state will step forward with funding for a Gopher stadium remains to be seen, but there are some signs that Minnesotans aren't totally against it. In early February, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minnesota Public Radio released a poll showing that more people favor public financing of a Gopher football stadium than either a Vikings or Twins facility.

For more info on the stadium and to view the feasibility report, see www.umn.edu/stadium.

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