If you think spending hundreds of millions of dollars to overhaul Michigan Stadium would be a renovation – well, you’re wrong. A renovation, you see, would have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Members of the Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America have complained that while Notre Dame managed to include more than 400 wheelchair-accessible seats in that school’s smaller stadium, the renovation plan for the Big House includes far fewer seats. The group has threatened to file a lawsuit against the University, saying its plan doesn’t comply with the ADA’s requirement that disabled fans have multiple seating options in different locations.
University General Counsel Marvin Krislov argued at last month’s University Board of Regents meeting that changes to the stadium’s bowl should be considered a “repair.” While constructing new luxury boxes is a renovation by any definition, the University’s legal position apparently is that renovations to the bowl itself, like adding restrooms and widening seats and aisles, should be considered “repairs” – a category not subject to the ADA.
This putative distinction between a repair and a renovation might seem confusing to anyone who has clicked the link for information on “Michigan Stadium Renovations” on the University’s homepage. Denying that parts of the renovation are actually a renovation to avoid complying with the ADA is also hypocritical. Promising to improve the stadium’s handicapped seating is one way the University has sought to sell the skybox project to a skeptical public.
With Regent Rebecca McGowan’s recent switch to support the renovation plan, there appears little hope that the addition of luxury boxes to the stadium can be stopped. If the plan must go forward, the least the University can do is to ensure that the stadium provides adequate wheelchair-accessible seating.
The University has gotten good at ignoring critics of its skybox plan. Hopefully, it has enough respect for its disabled fans to give their concerns the attention they deserve.