Stadium might rival other University projects

Than Tibbetts

University President Bob Bruininks said it best at a Senate committee meeting last week when asked about funding an on-campus stadium in the midst of a bonding bill and budget year.

“It’s the right thing to do. It’s the right time to do it. It’s the wrong time to talk about it,” he said.

The University has three major projects at the State Legislature: the bonding bill, the biennial budget and an on-campus stadium project.

Some legislators said they think the University is getting more than its fair share in an already-constricted budget year.

The University’s proposal for a $235 million, on-campus stadium asks the state to pay for $94 million, or 40 percent, of the cost.

University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the combination of University activity in the Legislature is an unfortunate timing of events.

“But they don’t really play off each other that much and particularly when it comes to stadiums,” he said.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said his strongest concern was the relationship between funding a stadium and funding needed renovations and expansions of academic space.

“If the ‘U’ is slipping in national standings, it’s not because the Gophers football team had a bad year,” he said. “My fear is that the ‘U’ is competing against itself.”

Athletics Director Joel Maturi also said he was well aware of the potential conflict at the State Legislature.

“We’re very sensitive to the issue of competing against ourselves,” he said. “But in no way should the stadium take away from the academic mission of the University.”

Maturi said he and his staff are still cultivating potential donors for the $235 million stadium project, a critical piece of the stadium puzzle. The University needs to fund its $141 million share of the stadium bill with private donations and corporate sponsors.

The University’s plan asks the state to spend $7 million a year to pay off 30-year bonds.

Bruininks said the current stadium proposal is approximately 7 percent of what it would cost to keep the Gophers in the Metrodome once professional teams leave.

He said he hopes to have stadium announcements in the next couple of months, possibly alluding to major stadium donations.

Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls, expressed hope in a “domino effect” of bills passing leading up to the passage of a stadium bill.

“Maybe by the end of April we’ll see the Gophs on their way back to campus,” he said.

Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said she is “friendly toward” the stadium project.

“But I’m hoping the University can finance 70 percent of the cost,” she said. “Some here don’t see it as a value to education at the University.”

Davnie said he has long been an opponent of using state money to pay for Minnesota Twins or Vikings stadiums.

“I’m more open to a ‘U’ stadium than other stadiums,” he said. “The good news for the ‘U’ is that there’s not significant community opposition.”