Facilities plan to rely heavily on donors

The $190 million, privately funded plan would build a multi-sport complex on 15th Avenue Southeast.

Athletic Director Norwood Teague speaks before the Board of Regents, July 10, 2013, at McNamara Alumni Center.

Image by Emily Dunker

Athletic Director Norwood Teague speaks before the Board of Regents, July 10, 2013, at McNamara Alumni Center.

by Jace Frederick

University of Minnesota athletics director Norwood Teague’s $190 million plan to build a multi-sport athletics complex on campus will require an unprecedented fundraising effort.

Teague presented the plan to the University’s Board of Regents on July 10. He told the regents that the department intends to raise the money privately, meaning it will rely heavily on donors.

“We have a lot of passionate people out there,” Teague said at a media session after the meeting, “and I’m trusting if we sell a big vision, we’ll find that we’ll have a great response.”

Teague said he hopes the plan will be completed six to eight years from the launch of a fundraising campaign.

The plan includes eight facilities to be built at an expanded Bierman Field complex on 15th Avenue Southeast:

– A men’s and women’s basketball practice facility

– A football complex

– A women’s gymnastics facility

– An Olympic sport indoor practice facility

– An outdoor Olympic sport track

– A wrestling training facility

– An academic center

– A training table dining area

The plan’s price tag is more than twice the $86 million the Gophers raised to help build TCF Bank Stadium in time for the 2009 football season. The stadium was funded primarily with state money.

“I do believe that there are donors who are inclined to give to Gopher athletics,” said University President Eric Kaler at the Board of Regents meeting.

While Teague said he doesn’t have lead donors for the project yet, he hopes a handful will step up.

One candidate for a lead donor could be T. Denny Sanford, a University alumnus and the chief executive officer of United National Corporation. Sanford donated $6 million to the TCF Bank Stadium project in 2009 but has said he likely won’t donate to programs other than football.

Teague, who became the Gophers athletics director a year ago, estimated the price tag of the plan to be between $80 million and $125 million in February. But he said at the regents meeting that he “probably thought it would be a lot more than that all along.”

“I wasn’t surprised at all that we landed at this number,” Teague said, “but I do feel good about being cognizant of expenses, and I think we can do it very, very well.”

The public reaction to the plan has been mostly positive, but the large price tag has some concerned.

“It’s a lot of money in today’s market when there is no money,” said University athletics donor Karen Corneil of Willmar, Minn.

Corneil and her husband Thomas donate to the athletics department from time to time, but she said she doesn’t know yet if they will donate to the new facilities fundraiser.

The push for donations will likely center on how much each Gophers team needs its respective facility upgrade in order to compete.

Former Gophers athletics director Joel Maturi promised former men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith a practice facility when he hired Smith in 2007. Critics argued that the lack of a facility during Smith’s tenure contributed to poor recruiting and consistently poor conference results. Smith was fired in March.

“We think the new basketball facility is needed,” Corneil said. “We should have gotten it for Tubby.”

Teague emphasized the need to upgrade by pointing out advancements that opposing Big Ten schools such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have made in facilities. He also mentioned Northwestern University’s current facilities fundraiser, which he said has collected $55 million of its $220 million goal.

“Our practice facilities are 20 to 30 years old, and we’ve got to get more updated,” Teague said.

Kaler and the regents also showed interest in competing with other Big Ten schools.

“It’s going to put us hopefully in a high-tier, competitive mold that we really need to be in and haven’t been in,” said Regent Tom Devine at the meeting last week.

All of the facilities would be built in the Bierman Field area, where the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex is already located.

Teague said he hopes to turn Bierman into an “athletic village,” and a 300-space underground parking facility will also be included.

Regent David Larson said previous athletics improvements had been handled on a sport-by-sport basis, rather than as part of a package.

“This is going to be a change from our historic past,” he said at the meeting.

An update to Williams Arena was not included in the plan. Teague said upgrades to the concourse area of the basketball facility could be implemented in phase two.

Teague said the plan focuses on the department’s needs, not its wants.

“I feel like this will change … the course and the future of Gophers athletics,” he said. “I’m confident that it will.”