Correction: This article misidentified the number of audience members who spoke out against the Michigan Stadium renovations. It should have said a majority of speakers indicated they were against them. Correction appended.
Last night, University Athletic Director Bill Martin held the forum he said he should have held six months ago.
The meeting, which took place in the Junge Family Champions Center on South Campus, was an opportunity for the public to learn the details of the proposed renovations to Michigan Stadium and voice their opinions.
The majority of audience members voiced their disapproval of the plan to add luxury boxes to the stadium.
Few speakers said they supported the renovations in more than an hour of public comments.
When the University Board of Regents narrowly approved the Athletic Department’s plan in May, the decision drew harsh criticism from some faculty and alumni who said the meeting, which took place over the summer on the Dearborn campus, did not provide any opportunity for the public to voice their concerns.
Many members of the audience protested the University’s delay in discussing the plans with general public.
Several professors spoke passionately against the plans.
“The University places a great deal of justifiable priority on open, informed debate,” said Irwin Goldstein, a professor emeritus of biological chemistry. “What many of my faculty colleagues and I want to know is why the University has waited until now to hold these forums after the regents initially adopted your luxury box plan, after an architecture firm had been hired to execute the plan and after that firm had prepared the drawings of the colossal changes they want to make to our stadium.”
The audience also questioned other possible unintended consequences of the stadium renovations.
Chuck Brown, who graduated from the University in 1980, said the luxury boxes would create the need for premium parking spaces, which could affect tailgating.
“I certainly hope it’s not the plan to create a VIP section of parking in the blue lot,” Brown said. “I’m sure the University’s studies have shown that tailgating in the blue lot is a strong tradition, and I hope that tradition will not be taken away.”
Several members voiced their support for the regents’ decision and commended Martin for the stadium plan.
“I would like to congratulate the University on their conception of a nice, classy stadium,” Business School Prof. Bob Kennedy said, citing the revenue the plan will bring in.
The regents will vote on details of the design Nov. 17, and the final vote is expected in late spring. The renovations will include elevated concourses, a new press box, enhanced fan amenities, club seating and suites.
Martin said the construction will cost an estimated $226 million and the stadium will lose about 4,400 of its bleacher seats, but club seats and suites will make up for the loss.
Many audience members said they hoped the regents will keep the public abreast of the intended changes from this point forward.
“I would like to see the University post pictures of the inside of the proposed stadium on the website,” geology Prof. Henry Pollack said. “I hope that these and other proposed changes will be made available to the public so they will have an opportunity to comment on them before the Nov. 17 regents meeting.”
Martin assured the audience that the University understands the importance of respecting the tradition and character of the Big House. The University does not plan on changing the name of the stadium, and neither does it intend to allow advertisements within the stadium walls, he said.
“I know I wouldn’t be the athletic director for long if the Big House were not the Big House,” Martin said.
Martin said that during the planning process, the University carefully considered the impact the renovations would have on four key constituencies: the fans, the University community, the football program and the Athletic Department.
He said University Provost Teresa Sullivan – as a former administrator at the University of Texas – is familiar with using football to raise money. He also said the plan will likely increase the number of private donations.
Martin asserted that building skyboxes would benefit the football team by providing new surfaces that would reflect crowd noise back into the stadium.
“If you ask any player, they will tell you that the Michigan Stadium will not give you an home field advantage in its current state,” Martin said. “It’s too quiet.”