University looks to private funding to finish stadium

Bruininks said the University must raise $50 million to continue the project.

Nina Petersen-Perlman

A lazy summer definitely is not on University President Bob Bruininks’ agenda this year.

Although the University’s push to get its projects funded ended with the legislative session in May, the real work of the implementation period is only starting.

Bruininks detailed what he hopes to accomplish with the stadium, building projects and University realignment before the fall.

Now that the stadium has been approved by the Legislature, what kind of resources are going to go into making that happen?

First of all, the state made a very generous commitment that allowed us to reduce the anticipated fee we discussed with students, and I feel very good about that.

The big job now Ö there are two major things we need to do. The first is to plan the next stages of design work and construction work related to the stadium, so this summer we’ll be moving some roads to make it possible to site the stadium in the anticipated location, and the architects will begin the process of doing an architectural design.

The second thing being done is we’re working to raise additional private dollars. The University needs to raise about $50 million in private funds over probably the next year. We’re busy at work trying to do that and are making some progress.

How do you raise that support and ensure the money that’s raised wouldn’t otherwise go to scholarships or other programs?

That’s a question people have asked from the very beginning of the stadium project. First of all, people who are very interested in the stadium as individuals and want to make individual contributions also make, for the most part … academic contributions to the University.

They have a strong, passionate interest in bringing the stadium back to campus because they recognize its symbolic and real importance to the University of Minnesota as a way to gather our faculty, staff and students and the general community on the University’s campus in a very important way.

That money does not compete with our academic priorities. But we are going about the fundraising with businesses and corporate sponsors in a very unique way.

We are actually asking them to consider and to make a commitment to student scholarships.

We’re asking people as a part of stadium fundraising to make a commitment to student support.

How do you make sure that what happens to Memorial Stadium doesn’t happen to TCF Bank Stadium?

You mean that it moves someplace else? I don’t know if there’s anything you can do, but I would suspect people would work very, very hard to keep the stadium on campus. I don’t suspect it would move, certainly in my lifetime and probably not in the foreseeable future.

I think it belongs here and I think the outpouring of sentiment in response to the stadium reminded people of how special they felt Memorial Stadium was.

Was there ever a commitment made to Crawford Architects (the firm that did preliminary design work on the stadium) that they would receive the final bid to build it?

No, because the University must use a competitive bidding procedure and no commitments were made during the early design procedure.

This was an open process and I believe we selected an outstanding architectural firm, one that has built many professional stadiums and built and remodeled many collegiate stadiums in the last three decades.

With so many resources going into the implementation stage of the stadium, do you think there is a danger of other University projects falling by the wayside from lack of attention?

No, because we’ve organized the stadium and outsourced a good deal of the management, the oversight to a company called Hines, leaving a good deal of time and attention here at the University to pay attention to our primary responsibility, and that is our academic needs.

I don’t see that happening.

You often talked in the past year about what an eyesore the Science Classroom Building was, and that was one of the projects that didn’t get legislative funding. Will you continue to seek funding for it in the future?

I fully intend to put it on the list to recommend it to the Board (of Regents) in the 2008 capital request. I think it should be one of the highest priorities of the University of Minnesota. It’s desperately needed. It should serve thousands of our students every week. I think it is a vitally important building to support nearly 50 majors.

Why do you think that was one of the only University projects that wasn’t funded?

I think it was mainly a problem of the Legislature not having enough money to support this project and deciding to support other smaller projects all over the state of Minnesota.

There was strong support for the building, but not enough money was allocated to make it possible to do it.

We had back-to-back bills and appropriations close to $110 million these preceding two years. This bill was more than $115 million without the University’s matching support, so the total bill is quite close to $160 million. I think that is a very, very strong level of support for the University of Minnesota.

But I will say I was disappointed that our bill was not a little higher and it will be my hope, and the hope of the Board of Regents and the University community, that we will make some progress with the proposed biomedical authority next year, and we’ll get a very strong bonding bill in 2008.

While the Science Classroom project received no funding, the business projects on the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses received full funding. Why do you think those projects were favored?

I think the two business buildings received unusual priority in this session because of the importance of the project, the substantial growth in student enrollment and the benefit of receiving substantial gifts to help us fund the buildings on an accelerated basis.

Absent private gifts, I think we would have seen more likely funding of the Science Classroom Building.

The six colleges earmarked by strategic positioning will become three July 1. Have there been any surprises leading up to the mergers?

I think the surprises have been mostly positive, in my judgment. We were able through this process to develop some new academic ideas that will benefit students.

There were a number of very substantial positives, not the least of which were some very serious cost savings, which will be reallocated to student support and academic support.

To me, if I’m surprised at all at this point, I’m surprised that it went so smoothly in light of how difficult a challenge this represented to the University community, and how much people worked hard to make this transition smooth and successful.

Where did these “serious cost savings” come from? Are they because people were let go?

The cost savings are twofold. Very substantial tuition revenue will be reallocated to different parts of the University as students find new academic homes.

But the real cost savings came from reductions in administrative costs, from consolidating business offices, (human resources) offices, technology offices, senior management in these colleges, and that level of cost savings could reach anywhere from $3 million to $4 million sometime over the next two to three years.

We want to do this in a highly responsible way that is respectful of the needs of our employees.

Employees had an opportunity to work with our HR department to find other jobs in the new colleges. To my knowledge, nearly everyone ended up with new positions or continued their positions.

I think two to three years from now this is going to be considered a big success. These colleges will see great gains in the curriculum we offer our students, clearly more efficient operations that allow us to move money into areas from an academic point of view much more important to the University.