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Gophers' stadium costs expected to rise

  • Article by: Mary Jane Smetanka
  • Star Tribune
  • December 7, 2006 - 10:05 PM

The cost of building a football stadium for the University of Minnesota is going up.

U officials told a Board of Regents committee on Thursday that engineers have discovered that the stadium will need a reinforced foundation because soil on the site is boggy. And inflation is expected to increase construction costs by 6 to 8 percent in the next year.

Regents have already approved the stadium at a cost of $248.7 million. Kathleen O'Brien, vice president for university services, said a new cost figure will be set by the time regents see the stadium's design at a special meeting on Jan. 3.

"We are making major construction decisions now, in the next two to three weeks," she said. "Those will have an impact on the cost."

The state has agreed to finance 55 percent of the stadium's current cost. The rest is to be paid with $35 million from TCF Financial Corp., bond sales by the university, private donations and a $25-a-year student fee starting next fall.

O'Brien said the U will not approach the state for more funding for the stadium.

"The cost increase would not [be paid for] by going to the state or affecting academic programs," she said. "We need to balance what we get for this project, how much it costs and how much money we have."

The stadium is expected to open in 2009.

Regent David Metzen urged officials not to stint on construction. He suggested that the builders of the Metrodome were so fixated on getting that facility done within budget that it shortened the stadium's useful life.

"We're looking at a stadium that's going to be around for 75 to 100 years. We have to do this thing right," he said.

Decisions on construction -- whether to emphasize concrete or steel, for instance, and whether to conceal stairways to make the stadium look more natural on campus -- will help determine the cost, O'Brien said.

The stadium will occupy 10 acres in a 75-acre site that represents the biggest campus expansion since the West Bank was built in the 1960s. As many as 10 new academic buildings are planned for construction in that area between now and 2015, and the stadium needs to fit as the centerpiece of that campus addition, she said.

While initial plans called for the stadium's field to run north-south, the field now will be laid out in an east-west configuration, like old Memorial Stadium. Athletic Director Joel Maturi told regents that many other college teams, including Washington and Oregon, have east-west fields and haven't had problems with the sun. The new layout means that the horseshoe-shaped stadium will be open at the end facing campus, offering football fans a view of downtown Minneapolis. It also shifts the service end of the stadium, where truck traffic will be heavy, away from the heart of the campus and toward University Avenue, O'Brien said.

Soft soil on the stadium site means dirt will either have to be dug out and replaced or the stadium foundation will have to be built on concrete pilings driven deep into the earth, officials said. That adds cost. And O'Brien said that while new housing construction has flagged, commercial construction costs are escalating and are expected to increase in the next year.

Regent John Frobenius questioned why the stadium will only have 50,000 seats when more than 60,000 seats were sold when the Gophers played Iowa this fall. O'Brien said another 22,000 seats could be added later, but said regents will have to wait until January for the details.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 • smetan@startribune.com

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