Officials stay hopeful for new stadium

Than Tibbetts

If optimism were brick and mortar, the Gophers would have an on-campus stadium tomorrow.

The University’s proposed $222 million football stadium project is gaining momentum, officials involved with the plan said.

The University’s lease with the Metrodome expires after the 2011 football season. With stadium planning and construction taking four to five years, the University continues to seriously look at the project.

While South Dakota banker and University alumnus T. Denny Sanford’s proposed $35 million donation to lead a stadium fund-raising drive never materialized, proponents say this year bodes well for a new on-campus stadium.

Legislative efforts

Several University-affiliated groups are working with the State Legislature to secure funding for a stadium.

“We did an excellent job (lobbying) last spring,” Athletics Director Joel Maturi said. “We were extremely well-received.”

Among the optimistic is state Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, the chief author of a now defunct Gophers-only stadium bill.

Michel said he will reintroduce the bill at the next legislative session. He also said he was disappointed that the bill fell victim to political gridlock.

“The 2005 legislative session will be a great opportunity for the Gophers,” Michel said. “I think the bill’s going to pass once we get it on the Senate floor.”

Bringing the bill to a vote, however, is another matter. Regular Senate business could delay a stadium bill well into the session. Budget, education and health-care issues all need to be addressed early, he said.

Under the current plan, the University would pay 60 percent of the cost of an on-campus stadium and the Legislature would cover 40 percent of the cost, University budget officer Brian Swanson said.

He also said an on-campus stadium will likely increase the athletics department’s annual revenues.

University lobbyist Donna Peterson said no one in the Legislature was adamantly opposed to a Gophers-only stadium and “the overall reception was positive.”

“Hopefully, we can carry that same positive reception next year as well,” she said.

Peterson said money for a stadium could also depend on the results of the elections in November.

The Gophers football team’s current 5-0 record might help.

“A great football team adds to the excitement and momemtum for a stadium bill,” Michel said.

Maturi, who has supported the stadium plan since accepting his post at the University in 2002, said he hopes this session will produce a stadium bill.

“I don’t know how in the world (the Legislature) can say no,” Maturi said of the 60 percent to 40 percent funding split.

Conflicting schedules

Maturi said Saturday’s near collision of a Minnesota Twins game and a Gophers game is another example of why the University needs a new stadium. Because of the scheduled 7 p.m. start of the Gophers game, the Twins had to suspend their game in the 11th inning.

“It’s another indicator of why we need to bring Gopher football back to campus,” Michel said. “A lot of people were upset.”

He said Minneapolis is the only city with three sports tenants in one building and conflicts such as Twins games being suspended or Gophers games being moved “seem to be happening every year.”

Maturi said the situation is difficult, because there are four weeks when Twins and Gophers events could conflict.

Possible schedule conflicts at the Metrodome could happen again. Maturi said the homecoming game will be moved to Oct. 22 if the Twins win the American League Division Series agaist the New York Yankees.

“The Twins’ going to the playoffs the last three years has wreaked havoc on our football schedule,” said Tom Zearley, president of the Minnesota Student Association.

“We have to do something by 2011,” Zearley said.