A recap of a memorable day in FAU history

“God works in mysterious ways. Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you get what He wants, and sometimes they are the same.” – Howard Schnellenberger after Tuesday’s vote to approve a new football stadium on the FAU campus.

That was The Voice’s response when discussing what had happened last Saturday, and how the timing seemed to be perfect, with the Board of Trustees voting on the stadium proposal three days late.

The first thing that happened on that fateful Saturday was that FAU upset Minnesota way down at Dolphin Stadium. Several BOT members were on hand for that win.

Next, those at the game went home and turned on the TV and saw the sellout crowd in UCF’s new stadium, as the Knights battled Texas.

Echos of those events were still reverberating around the Live Oak Pavilion where the BOT met Tuesday.

It all started with a rather remarkable introduction by consultant Craig Dunlap.

Dunlap had been hired by the BOT to keep an eye on FAU’s number crunchers, to be sure they were providing realistic projections.

After his speech, one had to wonder who he was working for, The Voice or the BOT.

That is Dunlap on the left, Norm Tripp in the middle, and The Voice

Because Dunlap opened his remarks with a very personal story, setting it up perfectly. He talked about how he has spent 35 years helping set up financing for public works projects around the states. He said he has put together billions of dollars that has helped get roads, sewers, water treatment plants, courthouses, etc., built.

Dunlap then said the most rewarding day of his professional career was Saturday, when he sat in his club seats with his 10-year-old son at Bright House Networks Stadium on the UCF campus. Dunlap had helped put together the financing for that stadium, and bought the seats becasue of that (he promised to buy a couple at FAU, too).

“ I must tell you it was the most gratifying day of my public finance career.

To see how a football stadium energized that community. The students were ecstatic, the band playing two or three hours before the game, the stadium was full, the football team, when they came out of the lockeroom, you thought the carpet was a trampoline.

Incredible. As I say it was a particularly gratifying day for me. To see how much enthu-siasm and support it brought. It was a good day. UCF played Texas very well. They won that game in many other ways than on the scoreboard.

In September of 2010 I hope you will have that same opportunity.”

I know I had this yesterday, but it is worth repeating, because Dunlap said so much in so little. He would go on for an hour after this spewing out numbers, but he really didn’t have to say any-thing else.

He had just described what a stadium means to a university, and it is something that numbers don’t capture. The Voice has been saying that since day one, but it seemed that after Dunlap told his story, everyone finally got it.

Dunlap also said that UCF sold out its luxury boxes and club seats in two months, and FAU might want to add more since he felt there would be more demand than the 20 suites and 1,000 club seats currently in the plan.

The Voice gave a decent speech, but he really didn’t need to motivate the troops, and he knew that.

Some highlights:

“This stadium, on this campus, will be the thing that will allow us to do whatever we are man or woman enough to do.”

“In the final analysis, if we can reach our capabilities, that [stadium capacity] won’t be 45,000, it will be 65,000. Not in any of our lifetimes, but it will happen.”

The meeting was at about four hours by now, and seemed to be coming to a merciful end. The outcome had never been in doubt, so come on…

Little Big Man got his turn, and said, “My mother told me, if things are going your way just shut up and call for a vote.”

But then LBM ignored his mother and talked. He said he had no doubt the money would come in. The stadium will have 20 luxury suites, and LBM said, “15 people have already stepped up and said put me down for one of those skyboxes. We might want to revisit that [and add more skyboxes]. I am convinced there is a naming right out there waiting to go off.”

OK, but coming in a close second behind Dunlap for Speech of the Day was Norm Tripp, the chair of the BOT.

It was Tripp who called out FAU’s David Kian at the last meeting, telling him that this stadium needed to get fast-tracked and be ready for 2010. Kian did his job, and now it was Tripp’s turn to weigh in.

Short, emotional and powerful.

I am getting choked up about this.” (And he was. Voice quivered a little, but then he forged on).

“When [the state board of regents] gave us a university, they didn’t tell us we had to be a second rate university forever.

We have the right to make that a world class institution right now. We have a right to be-ing to this university a full experience.

We have the right to become a world class university.

We have to go to take some risks, we have got to move forward.”

The Voice with BOT member and FAU grad Armand Grossman on the right
Well, that iced it. But, they still weren’t done. Every trustee made a short speech before the vote, the best coming from Armand Grossman, an FAU grad.

Grossman was on a business trip, and missed Saturday’s game against Minnesota because he was in Boston.

“Saturday night I got back to my hotel room and turned on ESPN and saw the FAU score. I wondered if I could trust my eyes. Shortly thereafter, on ESPN, was the FAU logo with the score. It was the first time in my life I experienced true levitation.

The face of FAU is changing dramatically, and is expanding form a first class university to a university of first choice.”

OK, anticlimactic, the unanimous vote.

Now, on to specifics and questions.

Why 30,000 seats?

Bottom line is dollars. That is all FAU can afford right now. Also, it would be hard to justify more seats when during its first six years FAU has averaged around 10,000 fans.

The Voice actually likes a stadium that is too small rather than too big, because if you sell it out, then demand goes up. A ticket becomes a coveted item. The stadium can easily be expanded by filling in the one open end zone.

Some specifics, please

Well, consider it UCF Lite, as in same type of structure, but with 15,000 fewer seats. Critical is the façade and other design tricks to make it look a bit more substantial than it really is.

There will be 20 luxury suites ($45,000 per year), 1,000 club seats ($1,500 per year), that will bring in more than $2 million a year.

Naming rights TBA, but Bright House Networks is paying UCF $15 million for 15 years, or a mill a year.

With I-95 exposure, FAU thinks it can get more for this stadium.

The breezeway that is the main artery on the campus will be extended to the stadium. And The Voice has already been in discussions about a tradition of the team walking the length of the breezeway (which may have a flyover the road it has to cross) to the sta-dium.

Who pays for it?

Business, fans, donors, anyone who writes a check that doesn’t bounce. This is supposed to be self-sufficient, stand alone, meaning no money from the university. That makes it different from UCF and FIU, both committing millions from their coffers for the stadium.

If you will recall, the orginal proposal was that a private developer would build the sta-dium, dorms, etc, and FAU would get a cut of the profits. The BOT decided it would be better to build the stadium and innovation itself, because then all the profits would go back to the university.

What if the money isn’t there?

Well, then it won’t get built. Not really. FAU has to build a stadium or fold the football team, and the latter is not an option. They could drop down to 20,000 (FIU is going with 18,000 seats), but Brogan et al have done their homework, and they know the money is there.

There is also the option of using some university money. The stadium is part of an over-all plan for an Innovation Village, with dorms and retail, and that part of the project will be throwing out cash very quickly, and while the BOT wants to avoid it, creative financ-ing could result in some of that cash flowing toward stadium construction.

The stadium will get built, one way or another.

Can it be built sooner?

It was not said Tuesday, but there are whispers that if enough hard cash gets pledged in the next two to four months, it could be fast-tracked. The stadium will take 18 months to build, so back that up, and to open in 2010 construction would begin in March 2009, and if it were to open in 09, that would be March 08.

That doesn’t leave a lot of time to set up the financing to build it, but, it is not out of the realm of possibility, though I would say it is a long shot.

Where will FAU play in 2008, 2009?

Well, Lockhart should be available in 2008, and maybe 09 if the Orioles and Fort Lauderdale don’t get around to finalizing the sale from the city to the ball team.

But here’s another scenario getting some traction: FAU architect Thomas Donaudy has proposed a temporary stadium on the site of the new one. Fans would be sitting in a work-in-progress.

This does make more financial sense than throwing up bleachers around the track.

The Voice said it makes perfect sense to him. “Do you know how many suites and club seats you could sell when people come to games and see what is being built there?” And he does have a point.

OK, I have regurgitated about as much as I can now. The stadium is three years away and there will be plenty of time to talk about it later.

The HBHD talisman had had enough of suits and speeches and was anxious to bolt once every-thing was said and done. Next stop, Denton, Texas.
This reminds me of 2003, when FAU was making a run for the I-AA playoffs at the same time they announced the team would be moving to I-A and joining the Sun Belt. This is much bigger, but let’s not forget FAU is 2-1 and headed out to North Texas for a conference game.

Back to football.