U’s stadium dream runs into financial reality

Still confident, university officials acknowledge the big money has been slow in coming.

Last update: July 10, 2007 – 9:57 PM

Six months after detailed drawings were released and a new football coach was hired, the University of Minnesota is learning that raising money for a new football stadium has many good days -- and some that are not as good.

"I think Joel Maturi kind of naively thought that there might be, you know, a little bit more success in the corporate world from a philanthropic standpoint," Maturi, the university's athletic director, said as he sat in his office. "We're not giving up."

As the university tries to build more enthusiasm for the new $288.5 million facility with a groundbreaking ceremony today, there are ample signs of fundraising success: The campaign has $51 million in gifts, including 17 gifts of at least $1 million and another $9.2 million in pledges.

University officials are also confident that many ordinary Minnesotans will donate money when a grass-roots fundraising drive begins next year.

But the big corporate hitters -- other than TCF Bank, whose stadium naming rights agreement is valued at $21 million -- have been harder to sign. Of the gifts of $1 million or more through the end of May, just three came from large corporations -- Best Buy, Target and General Mills. And in the three months following the release of the stadium's design and the hiring of head coach Tim Brewster, according to university records, there were no additional donors in the coveted $1 million bracket and just three new in the $100,000-and-above category.

For those closely involved, the fundraising drive so far has been a lesson in what is possible -- and what is not. The university can only look with envy at places such as Oklahoma State University, where financier T. Boone Pickens pledged $165 million to athletics last year, and at Ohio State University, which completed a $200 million renovation of its landmark 105,000-seat football stadium.

Not counting the TCF Bank naming rights agreement, the University of Minnesota has raised roughly $39 million. Much of that -- $24 million -- has come in the 14 months since the Legislature approved the stadium-financing package, according to Judy Kirk, executive vice president of the University of Minnesota Foundation, which is assisting in the fundraising.

University officials are confident that with $26 million still to be raised privately -- public money is financing much of the stadium's cost -- the job ahead is doable before the 50,000-seat, campus facility opens in two years. "Great progress is being made," said John Lindahl, who with his wife, Nancy, have donated $1 million and have co-chaired the overall fundraising drive. Norwest Equity Partners, where Lindahl is the managing partner, has also given $1 million.

"All I know is we have until September of '09 to do it," he said, referring to the opening date.

But unless more large contributors come forward, the remainder will have to come from smaller donations.

Deep ties and deep pockets

For other schools, thinking small has not been as necessary. At Oklahoma State, grateful university officials named the football stadium after Pickens, an alumnus, following his gift. "The money came to us as cash," said Gary Shutt, a university spokesman. "He has a suite, and he's at our games. He's a big fan, and fans love to see him at our games, and he travels to a lot of the away games."

Shutt said part of the money is being used to enclose the stadium's west end zone, which will be complete next year and increase the stadium's seating capacity to 60,000.

With $104.7 million in athletic department revenues last year -- Minnesota had $56.9 million -- Ohio State likewise travels in a higher orbit financially. Its renovations, completed five years ago, included the addition of 10,000 seats, a new press box, elevators and updated concession stands to the stadium, which was built in 1922. Tom Hof, the senior associate athletic director for external relations, said the school is raising $12 million a year from suite leases, the addition of 2,500 club seats and an added charge on ticket prices, all of which is helping pay for the renovation.

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