The University of Minnesota has received a $25 million gift to fund a new athletic complex and academic programs.
Land O’Lakes Inc. and the Land O’Lakes Foundation pledged $21 million toward Gophers athletics, jump-starting a $190 million fundraising campaign that has been the focal point of athletic director Norwood Teague’s administration.
The university said it was one of the largest corporate contributions in its history.
The athletics pledge will be directed toward building a 60,000-square-foot Center for Excellence in the new athletics village, provide support for student-athlete activities and will support various athletic sponsorships and events. Land O’Lakes will receive naming rights to the complex.
The university and Land O’Lakes Foundation will formally announce the deal at a Wednesday afternoon news conference on the campus’ Northrop Mall.
This is one of the first-ever agreements between the university and a business partner to have a broad range of support for student-athletes and academic programs, including student scholarships, development within athletics, internship opportunities and faculty research, the school said in its release.
Nearly $4 million of the pledge will be spread among the Carlson School of Management, the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and the College of Science and Engineering, with a small portion going to universitywide initiatives.
“This is what we have been waiting for,” Teague said “… Land O’Lakes has given us a huge shot in this campaign. Our coaches have known for a little while this was coming, and they are excited. They know this is the start of something good.”
Putting plans in motion
Former Gophers hockey player and North Stars executive Lou Nanne is leading the fundraising charge as chairman of the $190 million drive to upgrade sports facilities.
“This is a long step forward,” he said. “Minnesota corporations haven’t become partners with the university like they should, and for Land O’Lakes to do this — to lead the way — is a real good feather in its hat.”
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler in a news release: “Meaningful partnerships with Minnesota businesses are vital to the success of our students and the state’s economic future. The 40-plus-year partnership between the U and Land O’Lakes is one in which we take great pride. This new commitment and innovative model of support will advance our teaching, student support, athletic programs and research mission, and will further position the U as a continued leader in addressing society’s pressing challenges.”
The ambitious athletic facilities master plan included two phases over an eight-year timeline. Phase one included a football training complex, a men’s and women’s basketball practice facility, an academic center, an athletic training table, a women’s gymnastics facility, an Olympic sport indoor practice facility, an outdoor Olympic sport track and a wrestling training facility, all housed on land currently used or occupied by the athletic department.
Land O’Lakes’ multimillion-dollar commitment should fulfill the objective of an academic center and training table.
The $15 million Center for Excellence will house academic, nutrition and leadership development programs for university students and student-athletes and is expected to open in the fall of 2016.
Land O’Lakes commitment
Approximately $6 million of the pledge will provide support for activities in the Center for Excellence, including the Student-Athlete Leadership Development Center and the Gopher Connect Program (which helps match student-athletes with Minnesota companies for jobs and training opportunities), and to various intercollegiate athletic sponsorships and events.
The $25 million will be given to the university between 2015 and 2024.
“Today’s announcement underscores our commitment to educational excellence and further strengthens our investment in the pipeline of talent from the University of Minnesota,” said Christopher Policinski, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes Inc., in a news release. “Land O’Lakes has doubled in size over the past five years and is committed to continue to grow its food and agricultural businesses both domestically and internationally. It is going to take high caliber talent to achieve our business goals.
“We are pleased to be partnering with the University to help create a holistic student experience that equips graduates for a competitive marketplace, but also inspires the well-rounded talent necessary to meet the challenge of feeding a growing global population. We look forward to continuing our long-standing relationship and building a strategic partnership with this great institution.”
Senior associate athletic director Chris Werle said the Center for Excellence is still being designed, with no decision yet on where it will be located within the new athletics village and when construction will begin.
In March, university officials indicated $30 million of the fundraising campaign would be dedicated to a new football facility. Football coach Jerry Kill said he’d like to break ground in December and has shown blueprints to recruits.
The initial master plan called for the Bierman Athletic Building to be torn down to accommodate new facilities. The current track will be moved to a new location, with the basketball practice facility landing where the track and a parking lot currently sit, it was previously reported.
All of the facilities will be grouped together to create a home base of sorts for student-athletes, with the Center for Excellence as the centerpiece.