The student body knows this weekend marks the biggest college football game in recent history. But how many people know about the other big decision this weekend that will affect Michigan sports for years to come? Not many. Understandably overshadowed, the Big House renovation plans come before the University Board of Regents for the second of three votes this Friday.
Aside from bringing a divisive atmosphere to campus hours before the big game, there are other reasons, unrelated to Saturday’s game, why the board should hold off on this controversial vote.
University Regent David Brandon, who was defeated by Democrat Julia Donovan Darlow in last week’s election, is a leading supporter of the proposed skybox plan. The plan, which would add swanky luxury suites to the historic stadium, passed with a narrow 5-3 margin during a preliminary vote last May. However, with Darlow taking office in January, the proposed skybox plan could deadlock 4-4 on the third and final vote. Given that a tie vote is effectively a failed vote, the new makeup of the board could, in theory, save the University’s stadium from skyboxes. While Darlow has not announced her opinion on the issue, Brandon’s absence from the board puts the stadium renovation vote up for grabs.
However, the possibility of a skybox-free stadium is not reason enough to hold off the vote. If the new board is faced with two votes in favor of skybox plan, it will be difficult and costly to change the course of action with the third and final vote. It will undoubtedly put the new board in a difficult position, where it may be forced to undo policy decisions the previous board enacted only a few months before.
The reality is that the skybox issue is one for January’s Board of Regents to wrestle with. If the renovation is approved, the new board will oversee the project. Moreover, it is worth noting that Brandon came in fourth behind Republican Susan Brown during the election last week. It is not far-fetched to suggest his outspoken position in favor of skyboxes alienated voters. The regents should not rush this monumental decision simply so Brandon may voice his vote as a lame duck.
One thing Darlow has stated she’s in favor of is a more transparent and fair process. The first vote, to approve the skyboxes and the hiring of architecture firm HNTB, took place at the May meeting held in Dearborn – when stadium renovations were added to the agenda after the deadline to register for the public comment period had passed. While this week’s vote will be Ann Arbor, there are still other problems with the process.
Construction projects are rarely so divisive – before the skybox vote, the regents had approved some 400 building projects unanimously. Given that this one is so contentious and that the Big House is so important to the students, alumni and fans of the University, the regents should postpone the vote. Doing so will also put the skybox issue in the hands of the board, with potentially different dynamics, that will actually oversee the project during the upcoming years.