The proposed Michigan Stadium renovations, looming skyboxes and all, continue moving closer to becoming an unfortunate reality. Just as upsetting as the thought of lofty luxury boxes distorting the stadium’s traditional bowl, however, is the seeming futility in voicing opposition to the plan. While it’s nice that the University is now holding a series of public forums to discuss the changes, that would have been far more useful if these forums took place before the University Board of Regents voted on the skybox plan in May.
The advance of the stadium plan reveals a long track record of questionable maneuvers. Last May, the Athletic Department’s proposal only made it on to the regents meeting agenda after the deadline had passed to sign up to make public comments, essentially closing the controversial matter to public input.
The case of misinformation surrounding the July regents meeting makes the handling of the renovation plan even more suspicious. Members of the alternative stadium plan group, Save the Big House, were given the wrong deadline, allegedly due to a mistake, to sign up for the speakers list – again closing them out of public discussion. The regents gave one member of Save the Big House a spot on the list to compensate for the mistake, but other skybox opponents still found themselves unfairly shut out from speaking.
Those who want to challenge the skyboxes should not face such obstacles to making their voices heard. The University must make its plans more open to public debate and be less secretive in its dealings. It shouldn’t have to take Freedom of Information Act requests to see stadium designs that already have been shown to the regents behind closed doors – as was the case for Save the Big House member Bill Wilson, who had to threaten a lawsuit for noncompliance with the FOIA request before the University made public its preliminary plans last week.
While the University did release the designs and fix dates for public meetings in the upcoming week, the meetings appear rather useless in face of administrators steadfastly pushing an already approved plan. Perhaps the administration remains hesitant to give voice to the opposition because otherwise it knows its plans wouldn’t hold up to fan and alumni scrutiny. The renovations should have been subject to open discussion with community members much earlier.
Aside from the unnerving lack of public discussion, the luxury box plan interferes with the sense of unity and tradition shared by all Wolverine fans. More bathrooms, concession stands and handicapped seating certainly stand to improve the stadium, but skyboxes looming over the crowd takes away from the common bond the fans share – all standing together in the cold, unpredictable Ann Arbor weather, decked out in maize and blue, pumping their fists to “The Victors.” The luxury box plan also threatens Michigan’s claim to having largest college football stadium by restricting further expansion. Despite University President Mary Sue Coleman’s objection to selling alcohol in the stadium, such a change may be necessary to encourage wealthy fans to lease luxury boxes. Another problem remains in the projected loss of 4,300 bleacher seats to make room for exclusive skyboxes and club seats.
Save the Big House offers a cheaper plan and 10,000 extra bleacher seats along with other improvements. Its plan and other alternatives should be given a chance to be debated through proper public discourse. With both Coleman and Athletic Director Bill Martin set on building skyboxes, however, that seems unlikely.