Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Field Trip to Orlando

Armed with a dozen doughnuts, two gallons of coffee and two duffel bags full of bottled water, 11 FAU officials settled onto a small tour bus Wednesday and prepared for an early morning three hour trek to Orlando. They weren’t visiting Mickey Mouse and Goofy; instead, they were salivating over a visit to the University of Central Florida’s all-new Bright House Networks Stadium.

Full on strawberry frosted and Boston críÂme pastry, the caffeinated crew was ready for more than a tour of the new facilities; they were expecting an informational rendezvous where UCF Athletics and project managers could tip them off with the best advice for emulating a stadium of their own.

The officials, consisting of assistant athletic directors, FAU Media Relations, and members from the Foundation Board laid eyes on a 45,000-seat, three level, steel-framed football shiny-out-of-the-box stadium. The group was far from impressed; they were flabbergasted at the view and benefits of building an on-campus stadium. Bright House Stadium was the final stage in sprucing up the UCF campus.

“We needed a way to boost the revenue to pay for this project,” UCF Building Director Tom Murphy said. “The idea was an innovation village full of 25 storefronts and restaurants and additional housing for students.”

Aside from the enormous stadium, there is a full-size indoor training facility next door, a four level parking garage, two outside practice fields, a soccer field, and room for 45 RVs and trailers to tailgate before games.

“It’s a beautiful stadium,” FAU Assistant Director of Governmental Relations Ron Bulger said. “I can’t wait to see one on our campus.”

The BenefitsThe Owls played their first game in 2001, nearly four years after Coach Howard Schnellenberger was committed to leading FAU football. The delay was due to the wallet-thinning costs of starting a team. Chairman of the Board of the FAU Foundation (different from the Board of Trustees) Leslie Corley and others worked to gain philanthropist backing and support for the team in 1998.

A large contributor to the project was Wednesday’s bus driver and bus owner Joseph Balistreri, who donated over $1 million to get Owls football started.

“The high cost of starting the team and maintaining it are astronomical; that’s what happens when you have a football team,” Corley said. “It’s different from other sports because there’s no way for them to raise enough money for a stadium on their own; university and outside help are essential for that part.”

If a million dollars wasn’t sitting stagnant in the FAU bank account to start a team, then $65 million certainly isn’t available for a football stadium. An answer to raising the funds has already been approved and reviewed by the FAU Foundation and the Board of Trustees. The saving grace is code named “Innovation Village.”

“Innovation Village is very similar to the UCF retail area lining Bright House Stadium,” Corley said. “This is the most logical approach for gaining revenue to support building costs, and it would obviously be phased in before the stadium.”

Rent costs from Innovation Village, sponsorship for the stadium and fundraising would be the greatest contributors towards the total bill. Although a stadium comparable to that of UCF would cost nearly $3 million to operate per year, earnings would be well over $6 million per year. Assistant Athletic Director Creg Dunlap has proposed these logical methods of cost control in front of the Board of Trustees and has taken similar ventures to distant universities since his tenure started in 2003.

“The reason this proposal will be different is because our financial project manager has drawn up serious cost reports and compiled comparative reports to other similarly sized schools,” Dunlap said. “It’s always hard to find capital in these types of start-up organizations.”

The Price TagThe impressive $65 million structure at UCF was well thought out and constructed by the Eric Palmer Group and Johnson Consulting organizations. Aside from the retail area, 2,000 additional housing dorms were set up as well as a new four story parking garage. Only a five minute walk in the humid and hot Orlando weather brings you to an all new, almost completed arena that can hold up to 10,000 fans.

A grand total of $300 million was spent on the combination: $2.5 million for an entry plaza, $65 million on the stadium, $80 million on the arena and the remainder on retail.

“We’re going to do it,” FAU Vice President for Financial Affairs Ken Jessel said after a two hour tour of the Knight’s stadium. “Seriously, on the record, we’re going to do this.”

FAU won’t exactly be building the same stadium in the next few years. In fact, at the same price of $65 million, only a 30,000 seat, horseshoe shaped stadium could be built on campus due to structural demands in the hurricane-prone area.

“If we’re going to do this, we have to go all the way and not short change ourselves,” Corley said. “The last thing we need is to regret a major decision like this.”

The FAU Foundation, Athletic Department, and Financial Departments are gung-ho for the project. “Everyone is ready except the Board of Trustees who need to get on board,” Corley said. “Support from the community is what will help them move along most of all.”

The CompetitionUCF isn’t the only university ahead of the FAU infrastructure and facilities; USF and FIU are already hosts to numerous fans and stadium plans. USF started their football program in 1997 and recently sold 41,000 seats in their Tampa Bay Buccaneer Raymond James Stadium. Even FIU, whose football program started a year after the Owls, has started construction on an 18,000 seat stadium which will be completed by next year’s football season.

Construction on the UCF stadium began in March of 2006 and was finished by August of this year. If the process of approval by the Board of Trustees and the governors moves as efficiently, FAU could have a stadium by 2010.

“It’s like building your own house,” Dunlap said. “You’re going to do the best job possible within your time and financial limits.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

Do you have something to say? Submit your comments below
All UNIVERSITY PRESS Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *