Old Dominion doesn’t have an estimated cost or move-in date for a proposed waterfront football stadium, but athletic director Wood Selig considers the project “absolutely critical” to the program’s future and described initial feedback as overwhelmingly supportive.
Selig spoke publicly about the on-campus stadium for the first time Thursday, and during a 30-minute interview also revealed plans for the school to add, and construct venues for, women’s volleyball and softball. Those teams would enhance ODU’s compliance with the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX, he said.
The Monarchs are upgrading from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) to Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), a move that increases scholarship maximums from 63 to 85 and demands larger, more dynamic facilities.
Built in 1936, ODU’s 20,000-seat Foreman Field does not qualify, and a campus master development plan unveiled this week envisions a new stadium that seats 28,000-30,000.
Here is a transcript of my interview with Selig:
QUESTION: Master plans can be like a kid’s letter to Santa. Is this stadium a fait accompli?
ANSWER: This is the starting point for this campus master plan. It’s a draft. It’s a proposal. It’s a wish list. The plan goes so much further than a football stadium. It’s the next 20-30 years, a construction blueprint (for) this campus that’s going to enhance academics, going to enhance research, going to enhance student life. The football stadium is just one small component of the overall plan.
It was presented to the Board of Visitors (for the first time) on Monday … and they provided feedback to (university president) John Broderick and (chief operating officer) Dave Harnage. … And then we met with Mayor (Paul) Fraim and City Manager Marcus Jones on Wednesday and ran (the entire master) plan by them.
It’s always going to be presented in its entirety because to really understand any of the individual components, you really have know the entire breadth and depth of the overall plan. It helps you understand how things work, the dominoes, the sequencing.
Now we are going to spend the next several months in various meetings with all the neighborhood and civic organizations: Larchmont, Ghent, city of Norfolk, all the (campus) departments that are going to be impacted, academics as well as auxiliary. And we hope by the end of this calendar year this proposal can be finalized and approved by the Board of Visitors. At which point we would be able to say, it’s not as much a wish list as it’s going to be a reality.
Q: Did you get positive feedback from the Board of Visitors and city?
A: Very positive because when you analyze the current footprint and current stadium, there are severe limitations where we currently reside. The footprint is not large enough to go much beyond 25,000 seats because you start getting into the neighborhood: houses, streets and academic buildings. … We’re hamstrung where we are.
So then you design, draw the footprint of a 30,000-seat stadium, 28-30,000 seats, that has the ability to be expanded upon based on the level of demand and interest in the program. Don’t try to figure out how far and how big you’re going to go. Get to the first step, which is 28-30, that you know you can grow beyond, and where does that go if you want to keep it on campus?
We had the conversation with a number of groups: Would it be OK if we moved this football stadium to downtown, on the river, near Harbor Park, or some other area of Hampton Roads where land is plentiful? And everybody, to a group, said there’s just far too much value in having the six or seven football weekends on campus, for what that means for alumni coming home, prospective students coming to campus, just the quality of life for the student body, the 5-6,000 students that live on campus. …
And there’s only one spot that can accommodate the footprint of the football stadium, and that’s where we have it, off of Powhatan Avenue toward the waterfront.
Q: And that requires taking down some apartments?
A: Yeah, we have a 30-year-old group of residence halls, Powhatan apartments, and they house 700 students. So obviously you must replace 700 beds before you can take them down to prepare a construction site for a stadium. And there’s dining associated with that as well.
So sequencing, you need to address some on-campus dining and on-campus housing before you can eliminate those (apartments). They’re short, they’re 2-3 story buildings and one thing we’ve learned with this campus master plan is we’re going to have to start going more vertical. So it gives us a chance to really maximize the use of the Powhatan footprint.
The ultimate, after the football stadium is complete is, we are going to build a new quad around Foreman Field. So Foreman Field does not go away. Foreman Field is eventually going to serve as a recreation area for a group of dorms that would be constructed where Foreman Field currently is. … In effect, it’s a trade, an exchange.
But you’ve got to have more housing, which we need on-campus anyway. So you go ahead and build the 700 to replace the 700 you lose at Powhatan, but then you … build even more around Foreman Field.
Q: The proposed stadium is deep into campus with limited access. Does the master plan address that issue?
A: That detail … has not been designed, but we know where parking currently is on campus, and we know we’re going to create more parking on campus. There are concepts that will more than adequately address the parking needs both in close proximity, as well as peripheral parking, for a football stadium of 28-30,000 seats. … Parking needs would be addressed not just for football Saturdays but for 365 days of activities on this campus, whether it’s evening classes, or sporting events, or theater or other events.
Q: Do you have a pricetag?
A: That can be determined by a lot of different factors. The subsurface work, what’s it going to take to build on that particular site? That’s not going to be an answer we’re going to have right away.
Q: How would you envision, whatever the price, financing the stadium?
A: There’s going to have to be a variety of revenue streams associated with the debt service for a new football stadium. That would include a number of naming rights, whether it’s the stadium or components within or around the stadium. … That would be a big portion. There’s going to have to be some fund-raising, some philanthropic support for the stadium from individuals in addition to corporations.
There’s going to be a new level of luxury seats and club-level seating that will be above and beyond the current capacity that we have. So there’s going to be new revenues associated with suites, club level and premium sideline seats that I’m sure we will be pledging to the debt service for the stadium. Then the university, I would imagine, would have to support it as well financially.
Q: You and John said when you moved to Conference USA that students wouldn’t pay the freight with increased fees. Do you stick by that?
A: I don’t think there’s an appetite for a huge increase. When I was at Western Kentucky, the increase to go from (Division) I-AA to I-A was $85 a semester. So that was $170 a year, and that involved a little bit of the stadium and the move to I-A football. I would bet my last dollar that that’s not going to be the case here.
Q: Are other athletic needs/wants addressed by the master plan?
A: It calls for an upgrade of the L.R. Hill complex. That’s our (football) practice complex. That’s where our coaches are housed, where our student-athletes lift weights and train. So we’ll have to expand upon that. … There’s also the basketball practice facility (adjacent to the Constant Center), and then there’s the conversion of the basketball practice area that we currently occupy into a volleyball venue, so we can add women’s volleyball for Title IX purposes.
And then there’s been some attention to finding land on campus that would be near the football stadium to have a softball complex that would allow for the construction of not only a stadium for competition … but also a practice field. …
What the master plan also calls for is … we’re trying to get groups that make sense together. It makes sense to have an athletics precinct for this campus. So we will be occupying a corner of campus with all of our athletic facilities with the exception of (basketball and) our (rowing) boathouse, which is in Lakewood. And there’s an effort to consolidate among academic colleges. The sciences should go together, business, education.
Q: How imperative is this stadium to ODU’s football success?
A: I think it’s absolutely critical. Our goal has never been to have the largest football facility in the state or the country. But if you look at what we did with the Ted Constant Center. For 8,400 seats, I’d put that against any basketball arena in the country. It’s already 10, 11 years old, and it’s still a model that other schools use to pattern their new arenas after. With regard to football, I think it’s absolutely critical that we pay attention to the needs of our program, our fans, our student-athletes and design the highest-quality 28-30,000-seat stadium in the country.
Q: In your best case scenario, when are you playing in this stadium?
A: Oh, gosh, I wouldn’t even put a date out there. … There’s just so many other moving pieces to the master plan. This is not the first project out of the gate, so I would have no way of handicapping a timeline for this. Maybe in six months, after we’ve vetted the plan through all these different groups and organizations, maybe a timeline could be more accurately determined.
Q: You, John and your development folks must believe your base has an appetite for what this is going to require of them financially.
A: Yes, we tweaked with the (Foreman Field) re-seating this past spring, we tweaked some of the pricing associated with some of the sections. We have generated over $500,000 more from football with regard to season tickets, loge, luxury suite seating, and our foundation, I think they’re up 44 percent in giving since we started football (to $6.98 million last year). So football has been a major driving force for our increase in private contributions, and in ticket and suite revenues. So we’ve just got to keep on that trajectory.
We’re at 20,000 (seats) now. If we go to 28 or 30, that’s going to be a 40-50 percent increase in capacity. And we have to be careful we get that right, because there’s nothing better in all of sports than to have a supply-and-demand issue, and once you lose that, it can be hard to get back. We have to be sure we hit the number right … with our first effort.
It would be wise of us to hedge on the smaller side out of the gate than the larger. Let’s see where demand goes. If it continues to grow like we all hope and think it might, then that will drive and dictate what the future of our stadium will be.
Q: That’s where (former athletic director) Jim Jarrett and his crew did right with the Constant Center.
A: Initially, they tell me, it was going to be like 10 or 11,000 seats. And they said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s back this up a little bit and go back to 84.” That was perfect.
Q: You don’t want to handicap a date, but are you pretty confident this gets done?
A: Yeah, I’m very confident from the initial feedback we are receiving, solicited and unsolicited (laughter), that this is a plan and a proposal that is very attractive, very palatable, very workable. Yeah, we have to fine-tune some things, but there has not been any sort of screaming opposition. Or, “Oh my God, you are absolutely insane to be thinking about this.”
Quite the contrary, and it’s cool to think about a developed waterfront. The University of Washington in Seattle, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, there are only a handful that can claim that type of environment and opportunity. I think being distinctive (is important). … The space I want to occupy with the new stadium is one of the nicest 30,000-or-so seat football facilities in the country that speaks to fan amenities, the quality of the atmosphere, environment, surroundings, that’s a destination place. You really want to be there, you really want to go, and it doesn’t matter who we’re playing.
Q: How has your experience as Western Kentucky’s AD informed this journey?
A: I think it’s been invaluable for me both in knowing the missteps we may have taken at WKU competitively, with regard to facility, and with regard to selling within the community and even scheduling. I think I’ve been a good resource for Coach (Bobby) Wilder and his staff, and for our university administration having been through a transition from FCS to FBS and living it every day.
Q: I should know this, but what did you do with the stadium there?
A: We invested about $50 million. WKU was a one-sided stadium … that seated 17,500, and we added a brand new side with locker room, weight room, coaches’ offices, about 6,000 seats that contained a loge area of about 1,000 seats, and we bowled it in. That was an amazing transformation from an old, tired stadium to a new FBS-caliber stadium. … It was a very well-done project. We received a $5 million donation from a local corporate partner (Houchens Industries) to name the stadium. …
This is going to be nicer. Not to speak poorly of WKU, but we have the ability to start from scratch. Whenever you renovate as opposed to build brand new, you’re always compromising. We’re going to start completely new and do it the right way.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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