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.