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« January 2006 | Main | March 2006 »

The U's new stadium is about more than football

February 28, 2006
St. Paul Pioneer Press

On a Thursday in March 1924, several hundred Minnesotans gathered at the corner of Oak Street and University Avenue in Minneapolis as then-President L.D. Coffman turned the first shovel of dirt in the construction of Memorial Stadium. More than eight decades later, as legislators return to the Capitol for their 2006 session, they have the opportunity to return Golden Gopher football to the place it has always belonged, the University of Minnesota campus.

As the university's plans to build a collegiate style on-campus stadium move forward, we should remember this stadium is about more than football: It's also about community, pride and identity.

More than ever before, the university's campus is full of student life. Twenty years ago, shortly after the Gophers moved to the Metrodome, only 45 percent of freshman lived on campus. Today, the university isn't the commuter campus it used to be. More than 70 percent of freshmen now live on campus. The new stadium would transform the campus experience for the university's students in a way busing to the Dome never can.
And when they leave the university to join the more than 444,000 living alumni (most of whom are within 90 minutes of the Twin Cities), the stadium would give them an indelible marker for reconnecting with their campus and their university, complete with all the sights, sounds, smells and excitement of game days on campus, with the marching band parading down University Avenue to the stadium. Contrast that with attending a game at the Metrodome, where every hint of collegiate flavor must be imported and the campus itself is unseen on the horizon.

And this wouldn't just be a football stadium. Recreational sports, graduation ceremonies, convocations, job fairs, soccer, concerts, high school tournaments and other student and campus events would all have their place in the new stadium. It also would provide a permanent home for the university's marching band, which has no such campus facility.

It's smart business. The option of the university taking over sole financial responsibility for the Metrodome when the Twins and Vikings leave doesn't make financial or programmatic sense. An on-campus stadium, on the other hand, is expected to provide $3.5 million in net revenue, which would help defray the cost of providing intercollegiate competition for other sports and hundreds of student athletes. At Wisconsin, Iowa and almost everywhere else in the Big Ten, football revenues foot a much bigger percentage of the bill than they do at Minnesota.

It's also smart because of the agreement with TCF Bank. In an era when the university must carefully balance competing needs against limited resources, the agreement that would place the bank's name on the stadium has won praise among national experts in the field, who note what it brings the university dwarfs any deal like it in collegiate athletics. The agreement, and smaller ones we hope will follow, would substantially reduce the burden for the state of Minnesota and friends of the university.

All Minnesotans have a vested interest in the continued success of the University of Minnesota, the most important institution in our state. The stadium plan provides a fiscally responsible way for Minnesotans to restore one of the core ingredients of the campus culture at the university, one that's been missing for too long. Football has been played at the University of Minnesota since 1882. Clearly, it isn't going anywhere! Building this stadium now will meet a need today, and also be an investment in a source of Golden Gopher pride and identity for generations to come.

Hopp is a past president of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association and a member of the University of Minnesota Foundation Board of Trustees. She is the publisher of Mpls. St. Paul magazine and vice president of publishing at MSP Communications.

Margaret Sughrue Carlson: Bring Gophers football back where it belongs

State support is needed soon or we'll lose momentum for a new stadium on campus.

Margaret Sughrue Carlson
February 10, 2006
Star Tribune

As the Minnesota Legislature begins its new session, lawmakers have an opportunity to rekindle a sense of excitement, spirit and pride in the University of Minnesota. They can provide the university the funding it needs to build a new stadium and bring Gophers football back to campus.
This is about much more than football. It's about bringing people young and old to campus, sharing traditions and rekindling a sense of community. It's about building a new center of university life that will be the home to athletic, recreational and cultural events and providing a richer campus for students, faculty and staff.

The university has made its case for the stadium and people have responded with enthusiasm. More than 16,000 alumni and friends have signed our stadium supporter list, and there has been solid fundraising progress. The University of Minnesota Alumni Association made the first major gift of $1 million for the stadium. Last year we celebrated the $35 million naming rights agreement with TCF Bank and another $2.5 million commitment from Best Buy. But as the Legislature convenes, the university faces a critical juncture.

The university has committed to raise 60 percent of the cost of the $248 million stadium, mostly with private funds. But without state support soon, we will lose the momentum we have built, making it much more difficult to get the sponsorships and donations needed to raise our share of the funds. Many private donors are waiting until they know the state will make its commitment, and other corporate sponsors are also watching the Legislature. Further delays will certainly result in additional construction costs.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty supports the stadium, and there is broad bipartisan approval in the Legislature for the bill providing the state's 40 percent share. The university has promised a fall 2009 kickoff in the new stadium, but can't do it unless the state funding piece falls into place early in the 2006 session.

I'm lucky enough to have experienced the thrill of Golden Gophers football in Memorial Stadium, and I've attended away games on all of the Big Ten campuses. It's time for our state's hometown team to play Big Ten college football the way it was meant to be played -- outdoors and on campus.

Margaret Sughrue Carlson is chief executive officer of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association.

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