Plan increasing capacity to 108,251 passes in closest Regential vote of proposed building projects
The University’s Board of Regents approved a project to renovate the Michigan Stadium with a 5-3 vote Friday morning. The $226-million renovation project includes the addition of luxury boxes as part of two new structures on the east and west sidelines.
Extending several feet above the stadium’s scoreboards, the structures will include 83 luxury boxes, or private suites. The renovated stadium will also feature wider aisles, accessible seating for the disabled, 3,180 outdoor and indoor club seats and 650 chairback seats – individual seats with back support and arm rests.
The renovated stadium, with a projected seating capacity of 108,251, will accommodate nearly 1,000 more fans than the current stadium.
Regent Olivia Maynard (D-Goodrich) said some seats will be removed to build the structures, but only seats without current ticket-holders.
The Regents have discussed renovating the stadium for years. In 2003, several Regents visited Ohio State University and Pennsylvania State University to get an idea of the competition facing Michigan Stadium.
After the visit, the Regents were excited about the possibilities for Michigan’s stadium, Maynard said.
Penn State’s Beaver Stadium boosted its seating capacity to 107,282 after its seventh renovation completed in 2001 – making Beaver Stadium second to Michigan in capacity by only 219 seats.
The $194-million renovation to Ohio Stadium, also completed in 2001, included 81 “hospitality suites,” a new press box and new bench seats.
University officials told the Daily in 2004 that Ohio Stadium served as a model for some of the proposed changes to Michigan Stadium.
“We have frankly fallen behind in many of our facilities and we’ve got to address them,” University athletic director Bill Martin said.
Many Michigan fans are wary that the University is going too far to outdo competition.
Friday’s decision comes after eight months of heated debate over whether the elite nature of the private suites projects an incorrect message about the University’s values.
Critics of the project argue that the separation of wealthy fans in the luxury boxes from the crowd below suggests the University is more concerned with financial gain than a unified environment.
The 5-3 vote marks one of the most contentious issues the Regents have ever addressed. In more than 400 past building projects, the Regents have voted unanimously.
Regents opposed to the renovation plan are Laurence Deitch, Rebecca McGowan and Katherine White.
McGowan said she is concerned the project will spend “too much money on too few people.”
Deitch said the project “screams of insensitivity” because Michigan’s economy is doing so poorly. He proposed a $55 million to $60 million alternative option he believes would cover the necessary renovations.
Maynard, who voted for the project, said the decision was not “black and white.” Maynard only recently decided to approve of the renovations – a decision she attributed to her faith in President Mary Sue Coleman and the athletic director, who have adamantly supported the project.
Martin said the plan’s approval is in the best interest of Michigan athletics.
It will take at least a year to complete the design and obtain approval of the design from the Regents, Martin said.
He said the construction will be complete by 2010 and will not interrupt any football games.
The architecture firm, HNTB Architecture, was officially hired Friday to begin the project.
Addition of proposal to Regents’ agenda upsets ticket-holders opposed to skyboxes
Some ticket-holders are infuriated by the secretive nature by which the University announced the approval of the Michigan Stadium renovation project Friday.
The University Board of Regents did not originally intend to discuss the proposed renovations to the Big House during Friday’s meeting in Dearborn.
The Regents added discussion of the renovations to the agenda at the 11th hour, after the deadline to sign up for public comment had passed – preventing dissenters from voicing their concern at Friday’s meeting.
According to the Board of Regents website (www.regents.umich.edu), the deadline to sign up for public comment is 9 a.m. the day before the meeting.
Regent Olivia Maynard (D-Goodrich) said the last-minute addition was necessary after someone leaked classified information about the renovations, including details about the construction, to the Detroit Free Press. She said that after the column, “the process had to be moved along.”
Michael Rosenberg’s column, titled “Beware of U-M’s plan for huge, pricey luxury boxes,” was published last Wednesday.
Maynard said the University does not know who leaked the information to Rosenberg.
University President Mary Sue Coleman is responsible for preparing the Regents meeting agendas, after consulting with the Regents’ chair, Andrea Fischer Newman.
University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said Coleman’s questions about the project were answered in time to add the issue to the Thursday’s agenda. Peterson would not comment on the impact of Rosenberg’s column on Coleman’s decision.
“Coleman found no benefit in further delaying the discussion,” Peterson said.
John Pollack, founder of Save the Big House, a group opposed to the renovations, said the University’s decision to tack the renovations onto the agenda was irresponsible.
“It was a very sly move and I don’t think it reflects well on due process at the University of Michigan,” Pollack said.
“This is halo times 100.”
The halo was the painted ring added to the stadium in 1998. It was taken down two years later after vehement public disapproval.
Pollack is also concerned about the message the University is sending by building luxury seating while Michigan’s economy is suffering.
“It’s fiscally irresponsible,” he said.
Former Dean for Research and Graduate Studies at the Medical School Irwin Goldstein said, “It was very sneaky of them to do it in Dearborn.” He said the meeting should have been in Ann Arbor.
Goldstein was one of the 33 faculty members from nine schools and colleges who signed a letter expressing their opposition to the luxury boxes.
Goldstein said if he knew the stadium renovations were to be discussed at the meeting, he would have been there – along with several of his colleagues.
Regent Olivia Maynard acknowledged that holding the meeting in Dearborn was not convenient for Ann Arbor residents who wanted to voice their opinions.
Goldstein is also upset that the skyboxes will be so high, saying they will “preclude the sun.”
“We have an incredibly beautiful stadium and it will never be the same,” he said.
Goldstein supports Regent Laurence Deitch’s alternative proposal of spending $55 to $60 million on “necessary” renovations, excluding the luxury boxes.
He wishes he could have been at the meeting to endorse Deitch.
Goldstein hopes there will be an additional meeting held in Ann Arbor for the community to comment. He said he is willing to pay more for tickets if necessary.
After a Freedom of Information request, athletic director Bill Martin revealed the project to The Ann Arbor News Thursday.
Maynard said, “The Ann Arbor News wanted everything.” She said the Regents delayed getting the information to them because they wanted the announcement to coincide with Martin’s presentation.
Data made available due to the FOIA request showed the athletic department has $40 million in reserves – an amount very different from the $20-$30 million commonly believed to be in the reserves, Pollack said.
He said the University could renovate the stadium under Deitch’s alternative plan in two years because “two-thirds of the money is sitting in the bank.”
Pollack said he will work to get the facts out and “shine a bright light” on the process by which the University secretly put the stadium renovations on Friday’s agenda.
“Everyone on both sides has to be disappointed in the process,” he said.