Study: Stadium could open by 2008

The newly released feasibility study projects a 50,000-seat facility would cost $222 million.

Branden Peterson

University officials unveiled plans for a $222 million on-campus football stadium for the first time Monday.

The feasibility study included renderings, cost estimates and predictions of how a new stadium would impact the University and the community. It also offers the first official glance at what the University would like to see in an on-campus stadium.

The stadium could open as early as August 2008, according to the study. The new Gophers football home would be a U-shaped brick facility built on a 32-acre site parallel to Oak Street Southeast near Mariucci and Williams arenas.

The 50,000-seat outdoor stadium would be built on property currently used by the Huron Boulevard Parking Complex, a portion of Fourth Street Southeast and three aging University buildings along University Avenue Southeast that are slated for demolition.

Building the stadium would cost $180 million, the study found. But necessary changes such as shifting Oak Street eastward, purchasing land, cleaning pollution and completing other improvements to the district add an additional $42 million to the price.

Officials on Monday called the proposed stadium a “modest” facility with bench and chair seating. It also includes many popular amenities of other new stadiums.

Plans include building 39 suites, 300 indoor club seats, 1,500 outdoor club seats and other outdoor small-group seating. The stadium is also slated to include a team store and a hall of fame.

The facility could host many University events, including convocation, graduation, soccer games and other athletics activities. It would also be home to the marching band.

The University also estimates a new stadium will significantly increase attention around the football team and greatly improve attendance – most notably from students.

Industry experts find that new stadiums generate a 13 percent average attendance increase, University officials said. With an average attendance of 43,000 people at each game at the Metrodome during the last five years, building a 50,000-seat stadium seems adequate, Athletics Director Joel Maturi said.

If nothing else, Maturi said, he expects increased student attendance if Gophers games return to campus.

About 6,000 to 7,000 students typically attend games at the Metrodome, he said.

The stadium was designed so it could be expanded to 80,000 seats, according to the study.

A financial plan to pay for the facility has not been developed, University chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said, but significant support will be necessary from the public, students and other sources.

The University does not plan to ask for state support at this time, University President Bob Bruininks said, but it does not want to be forgotten by legislators who might consider using public money this session for new Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins stadiums.

The University has a lease to continue playing football games at the Dome until 2011. Because it takes four to five years to build a new stadium, the University needs to prepare for the future of Gophers football, Bruininks said.

It is unclear how much money the University can raise for a stadium, but he said he is determined to try.

“It’s possible, two or three years from now we’ll look back and say we gave this our very best and we just can’t make it, it can’t work. I happen to believe Ö it’s possible here,” he said.

Bruininks said he has not forgotten the budget crisis, but he thinks building a stadium should be considered.

“This is a center of campus life. We are one of the only campuses across the country who doesn’t have a place like this. I think it’s the right thing to do for the University,” Bruininks said.

The University already owns much of the stadium site property and would need to buy property on the 2300 block of University Avenue for an estimated $3 million. The purchase would allow the widening of 23rd Avenue Southeast and help traffic flow if a stadium were built.

Fund-raising campaign official Dave Mona said the project will likely hit a quiet period in terms of publicly raising money. Right now, Mona said, he has been looking into sponsorship opportunities as well as preparing for a public campaign to raise money.

Mona could not estimate when a public campaign to raise funds might begin.

Negotiations continue between the University and T. Denny Sanford on the terms of his $35 million offer to help build the facility.

Sanford, a 1958 graduate and South Dakota banker, announced plans to offer his gift in September, but Sanford and the University have negotiated throughout the fall semester without reaching an agreement.