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University reaches settlement in Big House lawsuit

BY GABE NELSON
Managing Editor
Published March 9, 2008

Posted at 5:47 p.m.

The University has reached a settlement with the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America that ends the lawsuit over the Michigan Stadium renovation project - and will at least temporarily end the Big House's reign as the largest football stadium in the country.

The veterans' group filed a settlement today in federal district court agreeing to drop the lawsuit if the University meets certain requirements. It was joined by the U.S. Department of Justice, which signed onto the lawsuit as a co-plaintiff in November.

Under the settlement, the University will be required to make changes to stadium facilities like bathrooms and ramps to bring them into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act and rework the wheelchair-accessible seating provided in the stadium.

Before the renovation, Michigan Stadium had 92 wheelchair-accessible seats, all of them located behind the north and south endzones. The plaintiffs argued that the University had failed to follow ADA rules, which require that public venues like Michigan Stadium make one percent of seats wheelchair-accessible seating and disperse them throughout the venue.

The settlement requires the stadium to have at least 329 wheelchair-accessible seats when the renovation project concludes in 2010. That figure includes 96 wheelchair-accessible seats and companion seats to be added by the start of the 2008 football season in late August.

The adjustments will cost about $2 million, according to Gloria Hage, the University's interim vice president and general counsel.

She said the changes will also drop the stadium's seat capacity from 107,501 to an estimated 106,201 for the 2008 and 2009 seasons. That will make Michigan Stadium the second-largest football stadium in the country after Penn State University's Beaver Stadium, which holds 107,282.

It's unclear whether Michigan Stadium will be the largest once the expansion project concludes. That project will add a total of 5,100 seats, but some of the stadium's existing seats will be removed to make room for the addition.

The pre-settlement project estimate said the stadium's capacity by the conclusion of the project in 2010 would top 108,000, an addition of 500 seats from the start of the project. But because today's settlement will remove an estimated 1,500 seats from the bowl, it's unclear whether that will be enough to make Michigan Stadium the biggest once again.

Hage said University officials don't know what the stadium's capacity will be after the expansion project.

"Over time, we again expect to have the largest capacity of any stadium in the country," Hage said. "We have to wait until 2010 to see how the new seating shakes out."

She said University officials were happy with the outcome of the settlement.

"All of the parties approached these discussions with the spirit of compromise," Hage said. "We're very, very pleased that we were able to reach an agreement."