U reveals pricey plan for Gophers athletics

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 11, 2013 - 3:06 AM

The U revealed its $190 million plan to upgrade facilities.

 

Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague unveiled a $190 million athletic facilities master plan for the University of Minnesota on Wednesday, surprising observers with the size, scope and cost of a project that will affect every university sport.

“More than anything, I wanted to show that we’re going to be aggressive and be committed to doing the best we can and stretching ourselves all that we can to building something like this,” Teague said. “Am I guaranteeing all of this is going to get done in eight years? No. But that’s our goal.”

In presenting the proposal to the Board of Regents, Teague offered a relatively brief timeline to complete the project and said the athletic department intends to foot the entire bill through fundraising. In comparison, TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers football stadium that opened in 2009 and had a $288.5 million budget, had a fundraising goal of $86 million.

The plan encompasses a football training complex, a men’s and women’s basketball practice facility, an academic center, a training table for dining, a women’s gymnastics facility, an Olympic sport indoor practice facility, an outdoor Olympic sport track and a wrestling training facility — all of it housed on the athletic department’s current footprint.

“It is true that we need some investment in our facilities,” said University President Eric Kaler. “We’re in the Big Ten and we need to be competitive in the Big Ten. This investment is going to move us a long way toward where we need to be.”

The Bierman Athletic Building will be torn down to accommodate the plans, and 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. The facilities would be grouped together to create a home base of sorts for student athletes.

“Our desire … is to make the area where Bierman is an athletic village,” Teague said. “We felt like our student athletes, our coaches, everyone wanted more of a center and an anchor and a hub’’ for the athletes.

Regent David M. Larson pointed out that no such holistic plan has ever been proposed at the university. Administrators have instead chosen to attack concerns one at a time. “This is going to be a change from our historic past,” Larson said.

The trick will be finding the money to make it all happen. In the months before this plan was announced, Teague estimated the cost could be between $80 million and $125 million.

Teague lauded the state’s fundraising potential and said the hope was to finance the entire project privately,.There was no figure yet available on funds committed, he said, nor does the department currently have a lead donor.

“We have a lot of passionate people out there, and I’m trusting that if we sell a good vision, that we’ll find that we’ll have a great response,” said Teague, who was hired as Gophers athletic director in April 2012. “We hope there will still be a handful of lead donors.”

In big-time collegiate athletics, extravagant facilities have almost become the norm. That has put the U at a disadvantage in trying to recruit players who are also visiting programs whose facilities are more modern.

The Gophers men’s and women’s basketball teams, along with a host of other programs, share Williams Arena as a venue to both practice and play, while Bierman houses countless teams on a given day. The lack of availability can keep student athletes from practicing as much as they would like, and the cramped space can make it difficult for students to find a place to study, Teague said.

Minnesota along with Northwestern is one of only two programs in the Big Ten without a dedicated basketball practice facility.

Northwestern is currently raising money for a $220 million athletics complex, while Wisconsin announced plans for an $86 million student-athlete performance center last year. Nebraska unveiled a state-of-the art basketball practice facility in 2011 and is currently working on a $179 million arena.

“We need to get caught up,” Teague said.

Teague called Wednesday’s blueprints “phase one,” indicating that there could be a “phase two” in the future. That prospect, however, was not discussed in detail, although Teague said a renovated outer concourse for Williams Arena could be part of it.

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