New stadium makes financial sense

Given the Vikings and Twins' plans, the University is right to seek its own facility.

In his Thursday commentary, Willard Shapira claims that the University’s efforts to build a new on-campus football stadium are “misguided.”

To the contrary: Failure to seek a new stadium would be fiscally irresponsible.

Here is why. The University has a year-to-year lease at the Metrodome, and so do the Twins. The Vikings’ lease expires in 2011.

The Twins seek a new facility. So do the Vikings. Most knowledgeable people predict the Twins will succeed. Likewise for the Vikings, or if the Vikings don’t succeed, they will relocate.

Odds are strong the Gophers could find themselves the Metrodome’s sole tenant in 2011. In that case their projected annual rent to cover operating costs would range from $7 million to $8 million. This compares to a current annual cost of no net rent.

And that presumes the Dome’s owners did not decide to demolish.

The cost to the University to stay in the Dome would exceed the projected state costs to finance an on-campus stadium. The bill pending before the Legislature requests state funds for 40 percent of the $235 million projected cost. That is approximately $95 million, on which the annual debt service (state cost) would approximate $7 million, the same or less than the $7 million to $8 million the Dome would cost. And a campus stadium would generate $3.5 million more in revenues for the University than the Dome does.

Given the risks, it would be foolhardy not to try for a new stadium.

Furthermore, pending legislation does not, repeat, does not, compete with the University’s current legislative biennial budget request for operating needs, or its capital request for facilities. This is because the stadium request does not require any money from the Legislature until after June 2007, when the 2006-07 biennium will have expired.

There are those who believe intercollegiate athletics are incompatible with a world-class public research university. Nevertheless, the University is not going to become a University of Chicago by abandoning intercollegiate athletics.

The public will not tolerate such a move. University of Minnesota public opinion polling reveals that at least one quarter of all Minnesotans connect with the University of Minnesota through athletics. And of that number, 60 percent say attending sporting events increases their sense of pride in the University of Minnesota. Fifty percent say it makes them proud to be Minnesotans.

The public wants a well-managed, reputable and competitive Division I athletic program. Looking forward, the best way to accomplish this is to move immediately in the planning and financing – 60 percent of which will come through non-state funds, mostly private dollars – for an on-campus stadium for use in 2008.

Tom Swain has twice served as interim vice president for University Relations. He also served as national president of the University Alumni Association and is a retired executive vice president of the St. Paul Companies. Please send comments to [email protected]