Stadium debut bumped to 2009

Lora Pabst

Despite this weekend’s homecoming football game victory, Gophers football will have to wait until 2009 to play in a new on-campus stadium.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, announced Friday that the projected 2008 opening for a stadium will be pushed back to 2009. And the cost of a stadium has increased, from $235 million to $248 million.

University officials waited the last few months to see if Gov. Tim Pawlenty would call a special session to discuss stadium issues. The annual inflation rate caused the $13 million increase.

Pawlenty announced to his weekly radio show audience Friday that he would begin talking with top legislators about stadium proposals but did not commit to calling a special session.

In the past, Pawlenty has supported a new on-campus stadium but has been hesitant to call a special session to discuss the issue.

University officials hope for a special session before Thanksgiving because special sessions are rare during the holiday season.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said he has always been confident the state Legislature would approve the proposed Gophers stadium bill.

But the delay in a special session hurts fundraising efforts.

“It has made it more challenging for donors to come forward,” he said. “We want to assure people that this is going to happen.”

Also, the effects of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita could cause material prices to rise, Pfutzenreuter said.

“The big wild card is Katrina and Rita,” he said. “We’re already seeing movement in the prices of some things like Sheetrock, steel and concrete.”

The increased cost of the proposed Gophers stadium will not affect the $50-per-semester proposed student fee, Pfutzenreuter said.

“We’re not going to go beyond that,” he said.

The University still proposes to pay 60 percent of the total cost of the stadium, with the state Legislature paying 40 percent. This means the University will have to pay $148.8 million, up $7.8 million from the last estimate.

Phil Esten, special assistant to the athletics director, said University officials might look at requesting more money from the state Legislature later.

“If there comes a time where we don’t think we can raise the amount of money we need to raise without infringing on academics, we might have to consider a new model,” he said. “We’re trying to identify revenue sources that are not traditional in academia.”

The University already has three announced sponsorships: TCF Financial pledged $35 million for naming rights of a new stadium, Best Buy committed $2.5 million and the University of Minnesota Alumni Association pledged $1 million.

Several sponsorships and donations are contingent on legislative approval, with some donors setting a deadline.

“TCF and Best Buy both have sunset agreements,” Esten said. “This puts those agreements at risk.”

The TCF agreement expires Dec. 31 and the Best Buy agreement expires Feb. 15.

If legislative approval isn’t granted before the agreements expire, the University will try to renegotiate with both companies, Pfutzenreuter said.

“We’ll ask them to have patience and stay with us,” he said. “They are both strong Minnesota companies, and we expect them to up again, but that is their choice.”

Despite the timeline setback, University officials continue to prepare for the new stadium. The University is

conducting a required environmental impact study to proceed with the rest of the project planning.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.