The expansion project at Razorback Stadium at the University of Arkansas has been repeatedly described as a $160 million project, with $120 million to be provided by a University of Arkansas general obligation bond issue.
I confirmed with the Athletic Department yesterday that the estimated interest charges and fees would contribute to a $186 million total cost of the bond issue over 20 years. That extra $66 million means the cost is $226 million. If there’s a 10 percent overrun, that’d make a nice round quarter-billion.
Among a number of questions yet to be answered are those pertaining to new “founders” skyboxes envisioned as a source of a major portion of the $40 million in other money anticipated to contribute to the project. How many are to be built? What will they cost to occupy? How many commitments are in hand? One account puts the number at 17, with a $3 million upfront cost, payable over 10 years.
The University has referred questions about the suites to the private Razorback Foundation. It is the recipient of premiums paid for seats at athletic events and typically reveals little about its activities beyond its required annual tax filing. That questions about the skyboxes have been referred to the Foundation gives rise to another question: A portion of a public facility has been turned over to a private organization for leasing? By what authority or contractual agreement?
These and other questions are pending. Both the athletic department and a spokesman for the rest of the university have said the Razorback Foundation will respond to at least some of these questions. I’ll update if so.
ARCHITECTURAL COMMENT: I noted that Athletic Director Jeff Long touted how the project will retain that sliver of a view from surrounding hillsides to the stadium interior through the northeast corner. I always liked that distinguishing feature.
UPDATE: Scott Varady, executive director of the Razorback Foundation, sent this e-mail response to questions about the stadium and a question earlier about the payment of $3.5 million to Frank Broyles in 2014.
Coach Frank Broyles retired from the University of Arkansas in late 2007 and was no longer a public employee. At that time, he went to work for The Razorback Foundation, Inc., an independent, non-profit corporation. For tax year 2014, the Razorback Foundation’s tax filing reflected his compensation for speaking engagements, including the completion of a long-term agreement to remain employed with the Foundation for such purposes.
In response to your inquiry regarding suites, the Razorback Foundation commits to provide annual support to the Athletic Department in exchange for the right to assign seating locations (including suites), and the Razorback Ticket Office sells all tickets to those locations and receives all ticket revenues (not the Foundation). As part of the Foundation’s goal of raising $40M in private gift support for the renovation and expansion of the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, the Foundation has been seeking private donations for the right to use newly constructed suites known as Founders’ Suites. These gifts have ranged between $3M and $3.5M to be paid over five (5) years for the right to purchase tickets for these suites. All of those donations will be used to help pay for the cost of the stadium project. We are grateful for the support of our donors.
I believe this responds to your inquiries.
I also asked how many suites were being marketed and how many have been sold.
UPDATE: On June 20, Varady responded further information and also corrected reporting linked to former UA trustees’ statement in opposition to the project, which said new underground parking was planned for the Athletic Department staff:
The Razorback Foundation has received five (5) Founders’ Suite gift commitments to date. The total number of Founders’ Suites has yet to be determined and will be based, in part, on the level of interest in such suites, the architectural design, and the desires of the Athletic Department. Representatives of the Razorback Foundation continue to meet with supporters of the athletic program to explore their potential interest in the suites. As I am sure you will understand, we are grateful for the generous support of the donors who have committed to the Founders’ Suites. Their donations will significantly benefit the whole project, including the cost of constructing a new concourse around the stadium, adding new elevator towers to aid pedestrian traffic flow throughout the stadium, adding new security cameras, and adding a new scoreboard in the south end zone. As I address the stadium, please allow me to touch on some misinformation regarding the stadium project. The plans for the stadium project have never called for the construction of an underground parking garage or a private elevator for Athletic Department staff. While I know this inaccurate assertion did not originate with you, I know you strive to report accurate information, and I wanted to dispel such an unfounded myth.
In response to your other inquiry, you are correct that ticket revenues flow solely to the Athletic Department. The Razorback Foundation commits to donating a minimum of $12.4M to the Athletic Department each year and often provides more than that when needed. In exchange for that commitment, the Athletic Department grants the right to the Razorback Foundation to convey seating locations for most seating areas in the Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and other athletic venues (some seat locations do not require any type of donation). The Razorback Foundation, in turn, seeks private donations. The Razorback Foundation designates seating locations for its members based upon membership level and the total number of lifetime priority points accumulated by a donor. The priority points program is publicly available on our web site at razorbackfoundation.com if you are interested in reviewing it in further detail. Moreover, consistent with our tax-exempt purpose, the private gift support received by the Razorback Foundation is used to enable the Athletic Department to fund 19 men’s and women’s sports. I do not believe that we can overstate the fact that the University of Arkansas is one of a only handful of institutions of higher education in the nation that does not charge mandatory student fees or rely upon taxpayer revenues for its operations. I think this fact should be a source of pride for all Arkansans, and it is a tribute to the fans of the Arkansas Razorbacks — they deserve all the credit for their generous support.