Community benefits from new stadium

Against the backdrop of the World Cup, the Board of Regents approved plans Friday to build a new women’s soccer stadium near the St. Paul campus, but Falcon Heights residents oppose the construction of the new sports complex. University officials have explored alternative sites but so far the current site is the most cost-effective. Although inadequate, the current facility is already used for the Gophers women’s soccer team. The facility is in dire need of an upgrade and supporters of the new stadium are more than willing to comply with local neighborhood concerns.
Approval of a new stadium is not only based on need but is also in accordance with Title IX requirements. The federal law mandates comparable gender opportunity in athletics, which includes the construction of more facilities for women’s athletics. The women’s soccer team has been playing at the site for four years, with portable bleachers and portable toilets on game days, and no amenities at all when they practice. This is appalling, by anyone’s standards.
Rapid growth of soccer among high school and college students across the nation calls for a quality permanent facility. The National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn., considered the largest soccer complex in the world, is too far away for a University team to travel on a routine basis. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations’ survey based on figures from 50 state high school athletic associations, participation in high school soccer athletes increased more than 175,000 during the last year, now totaling more than 523,000. The number of students involved has quadrupled in 10 years. Moreover, soccer has gained the most popularity among women. It ranks fifth among women’s athletic programs. Inadequate University facilities discourage motivated high school students who desire to win goals at college as well as international competitions.
The new stadium can serve as a training ground, preparing both men and women for competition at the international level. The U.S. soccer team didn’t do so well during this year’s World Cup competition, perhaps due to a lack of world-class players. A new stadium provides community members and students the opportunity to compete in a sport recognized worldwide. During this time every four years, more than half of the world population falls into a frenzy during one of the biggest international festivals. According to a recent Harris poll, barely more than half of Americans know about the World Cup currently being held in France.
University President Mark Yudof, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and other University representatives are determined to find resolve with Falcon Heights area residents. Architecture Dean Thomas Fisher is willing to negotiate on such items as loss of trees and parking, and is even willing to lower the height of the proposed building. Residents worry the new stadium will tower over the condominiums and other dwellings. The University must respect the neighborhood and at the same time provide a well-designed stadium that meets the needs of current and future soccer players. The new soccer stadium can operate as an educational facility as well as provide a positive forum for international exchange.