A leading opponent of the University athletic department’s plan to add luxury boxes to Michigan Stadium unveiled yesterday an alternative design for renovations: the Big House Plan.
The plan – which John Pollack laid out at a press conference in the Michigan Union yesterday – calls for an additional 10,000 bleacher seats atop the existing bowl as well as an elevated second concourse to service the upper rows and decrease congestion.
Pollack said the renovations would cost $93.1 million after interest payments, using the athletic department’s cost estimates.
The athletic department’s proposal, which includes luxury suites and was approved by the University Board of Regents by a 5-3 vote in May, would cost $354.7 million, including interest.
In order to determine his expenses, Pollack took the University pricing for the construction of 3,000 seats and divided it to get the cost per seat, which amounted to $867.
Athletic Director Bill Martin had not seen Pollack’s proposal and declined to comment on it, athletic department spokesman Bruce Madej said.
Martin maintains that luxury boxes are the only way to pay for all the necessary improvements like handicapped seating and adding restrooms.
The athletic department’s renovation goals include a new press box, wider seats and aisles, more restrooms and concession stands and expanded capacity for disabled fans. The Big House Plan incorporates the same elements, Pollack said.
As the debate over luxury boxes heats up, Pollack said the alternative design offers a viable option that he hopes will encourage greater debate about the issue.
“I think Wolverine nation is just beginning to focus in on this debate,” said Pollack, a former Clinton speechwriter who lives in New York City and works as a writer and communication consultant. “It’s football season again. All eyes are on the Big House.”
In order to put his plan into action, Pollack needs the support of the University Board of Regents.
He considers the regents’ close vote in May a sign of possible support for an alternative plan.
Regent Larry Deitch (D-Bingham Hills) voted against luxury boxes in May, calling them an expensive and unnecessary venture.
“I voted against (the athletic department’s plan) because it contains luxury boxes, because it’s fiscally unsound, it diverges from Michigan’s culture, it’s insensitive to our current economic circumstances, and there’s a better way to renovate the stadium,” Deitch said in an interview yesterday.
He said he sees the “Big House Plan” as an intriguing alternative, even if it’s not a completed option.
“I don’t know that it’s a plan we could adopt, but I think it’s indicative of the fact that a thoughtful plan could be adopted without changing the character of the stadium or doing damage to our values,” Deitch said.
Opponents maintain that the administration never presented viable alternative plans for the stadium in an attempt to push through their preferred plan.
Even with the support of some regents, Pollack might not be able to reopen discussion on stadium renovation designs.
University Chief Financial Officer Timothy Slottow, who presents building plans to the regents for approval, said he does not foresee a change in course.
“We are not considering alternatives at this point in the process,” Slottow said. “We spent more than two years evaluating a wide spectrum of options. . I’m confident that the approved project is financially sound and will benefit all our fans in the long run.”
According to Pollack, the athletic department’s plan to add luxury boxes along both sidelines would eliminate 4,300 bleacher seats and would prevent future expansion along the outer rim of the bowl. This would cap the stadium’s capacity at approximately 108,000, he said.
The Big House Plan – drawn up by four architects with University ties, all working pro bono – maintains the integrity of Michigan Stadium while preserving its status as the nation’s largest, Pollack said.
The Ann Arbor native is confident in all aspects of his plans. He said under his plan, the Big House would be “bigger, louder, better.”
While the Big House Plan relies on increased bleacher capacity to enhance crowd noise, Athletic Director Bill Martin insists that enclosed seating is necessary for greater crowd noise.
“How can the biggest stadium in the country be so quiet?” Martin asked in a January interview. “The answer is simple: We don’t have any structures that reflect sound. The players have all told me, ‘Come on, make it more noisy.’ ”
Several other college stadiums have added skyboxes to increase capacity and revenue. Pollack, a lifelong Michigan fan, pointed to Notre Dame in his presentation as an example of why the University should not include luxury boxes in Michigan Stadium.
“Michigan Stadium is one of two pure college stadiums left in America,” Pollack said. “Michigan and Notre Dame. No boxes, no advertising, just college football.”
The speakers at the press conference yesterday included Fielding H. Yost III, grandson of former Athletic Director Fielding H. Yost, who first envisioned Michigan Stadium as it stands now.
Yost first heard about the Big House Plan when Pollack called him a couple of months ago. Since then, Yost has been one of the project’s biggest supporters.
“John had the courage, foresight and perseverance to pursue an alternative plan because the alternatives the University set up were straw man – easy to beat down,” Yost said. “He got one that is a viable alternative that appears to meet every criteria that is necessary, and he convinced me this was a fight worth fighting.”
Also speaking to the crowd of about 35 was LSA freshman John Latus, who recently formed the student chapter of Save the Big House. Latus highlighted the bowl’s special place in the hearts of Michigan fans everywhere.
But some are worried about the potential impact an additional 10,000 fans would have on the residents of Ann Arbor living in the vicinity of Michigan Stadium.
“The only concern I’ve heard (from constituents) is the effect on Main Street and those residents west of Main Street,” City Councilwoman Margie Teall (D-Ward 4) said. “I think (the Big House Plan) is fabulous.”
– Gabe Nelson and Nate Sandals contributed to this report.
The athletic department’s proposal
Eighty-three skyboxes would be added to the current stadium, which is shown above.
Approved by the University Board of Regents on May 17 by a 5-3 vote.
Seating capacity would by 108,251, an increase of about 1,000.
The Big House Plan
Proposed yesterday by Save the Big House, a group vehemently opposed to luxury boxes in Michigan Stadium.
Seating capacity would be 117,001.
Like the athletic department’s proposal, would renovate concession stands and increase handicap access, among other improvements.
Four architects who are University alums developed the plans, working pro bono.
What you may have missed this summer
It almost didn’t happen
The 5-3 vote in May to approve the Michigan Stadium renovations, including the addition of luxury boxes and club seating, was one of very few major decisions in the history of the Board of Regents where the board was so divided in public.
Regents opposing the renovations were Larry Deitch (D-Bingham Farms), Rebecca McGowan (D-Ann Arbor) and Katherine White (D–Ann Arbor).
Tradition vs. modernity
Critics of the project said the aesthetics and values of the stadium would be compromised in the name of keeping up with the Joneses.
The opponents say that the University is the Joneses, and thus doesn’t need to keep up with anyone.
At the time of the vote, on May 19, Athletic Director Bill Martin refuted this claim.
“We have frankly fallen behind in many of our facilities and we’ve got to address them,” he said.
McGowan said the plan would spend “too much money on too few people.”