Rotenberg: U looking beyond Sanford for campus stadium funding

Branden Peterson

Unable to reach an agreement with T. Denny Sanford regarding his potential $35 million donation for an on-campus stadium, the University confirmed it is already negotiating with other possible donors to secure money for the project.

University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said Thursday the institution is actively talking with other potential contributors, and a dramatic change in Sanford’s terms would be necessary for the University to reconsider taking his offer. However, the University might talk to Sanford next week, Rotenberg said.

In his original terms, Sanford wanted facility naming rights and construction of a stadium to his satisfaction. He also would only make his donation after the facility’s completion.

“The option is out there, but we’re looking elsewhere at this point,” Rotenberg said.

While talks between the University and Sanford might be dwindling, an on-campus stadium is still on University officials’ minds. University regents discussed possible stadium plans at their meeting Thursday.

Sanford began negotiating the terms of his donation in early September, when the University announced it had begun efforts to build an on-campus football stadium.

Sanford could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

At the regents meeting, board members reviewed colorful drawings of a maroon-and-gold 50,000-seat stadium and discussed the cost estimates for several parts of the project.

The total cost for the project is estimated at $222 million.

At their monthly meeting in November, the regents outlined specific procedural principles University officials must follow if it continues to pursue building an on-campus stadium. According to the principles, the University must avoid financial risk, guide all parts of the project development and advance the University’s academic mission.

Consultant firms hired by the University completed a study that analyzes any needed changes to the proposed stadium site, including road modification.

A stadium could open on campus as soon as August 2008 – in time for the Gophers’ football season. But this date is only possible if fund raising, site preparation, construction and all other parts of the project happen without any problems, officials said Thursday.

University officials decided to consider building a new campus stadium for several reasons.

First, the Gophers have a lease to play games at the Metrodome until 2011. Next, with the Twins and the Vikings publicly showing interest in building new stadiums, the University might be the only tenant at the aging facility that opened in 1982, University officials said.

The $222 million dollar figure left some regents questioning how the University could raise the funds.

It is too early to answer that, University President Bob Bruininks said.

“This can be a catalyst for campus life and community life at the University of Minnesota,” Bruininks said. “It’s important that we explore this option, and explore it at this time.”