But raising $115 million for upgrading UL athletic facilities will be a major undertaking. But raising $115 million for upgrading UL athletic facilities will be a major undertaking. By Dan McDonald
The UL athletic department has sources of revenue - some of them locked in, some of them relying on the generosity of fans and followers - to make part of the recently announced "master plan" for athletic facilities a reality in a hurry.
In fact, Athletic Director Scott Farmer says he's anticipating on-site work on the plan's three first-tier projects to begin soon, perhaps as early as late summer on a new practice and office facility, end-zone expansion of Cajun Field and renovation of the track/soccer facility.
That's warp speed in the world of state construction, but that can be done. Both the Moncla Indoor Practice Facility and the Lamson Park softball facility were erected in speedy and well-done fashion (with the exception of softball's horrendously designed press and box seat area, but that's being picky).
The second of the plan's three tiers is the most ambitious, and the most expensive, even though there are only two projects in the second tier. In fact, that tier's proposed renovation of Cajun Field could be the most expensive project in UL's athletic history. It's currently tabbed at $57.5 million, and by the time it's a reality it should surpass the $60 million spent to construct the Cajundome.
Renovation of Moore Field for baseball to the tune of $9.74 million is also in the second tier, while the third tier is a series of five smaller projects that will be constructed when funding permits and without a time-table.
It's an ambitious project. Total cost of all 10 proposed projects is $115 million, half of which is locked into the Cajun Field renovation.
But it's one that both Farmer and head football coach Mark Hudspeth cite as essential if the program is going to have the continued success of the past two years' 9-4 records and bowl-game wins.
"We desperately need an upgrade," Farmer says. "Cajun Field's served us well for 40 years, but 40 years is a long time."
"We've got to have some immediate improvements," Hudspeth says. "Once we're able to enhance those physical facilities, we'll be able to bring in better athletes and bring more national exposure ... by doing that, hopefully we'll have a chance to win more games, hopefully that will increase fan attendance, and that will drive the demand to expedite the stadium expansion."
Plans for Cajun Field do include additional seating with the double-decking of the east side, but more pivotal in the plan is the west-side structure that includes club, loge and box seats that will provide a major revenue source. Sales of those boxes and seats will eventually be part of retiring the debt on the project.
The plan was developed by the Architecture 360 firm from Kansas City, one experienced in athletic facility renovation. The firm just completed a master plan reworking of all facilities at Kennesaw State.
"They loaned' me a copy of that one so I could see," Farmer said. "They've worked with a lot of schools ... that's just one that they recently finished."
That firm's work is now completed, and its preliminary documentation will be given to whoever the final architects and builders are. The individual projects will be bid and awarded through regular state channels, although Farmer said the first-tier projects will be "design-built," with contractors bidding to both design and build to expedite the process.
The first three projects will total $21.65 million and will address immediate concerns - a quick 5,900-seat addition in the south end zone of Cajun Field , a 71,000-square-foot facility aimed at football that will alleviate the cramped conditions in the current Cox Communications administration building, and long-overdue reworking of the track/soccer office and locker-room facilities (which are a Title IX lawsuit waiting to happen).
Some funding is already available, with an auxiliary fee paid by every student passing several years ago and dedicated solely to facilities. That $450,000 per year was used to fund the indoor facility and the softball stadium, with debts on those two projects already retired.
The current priority-seating fees - which increase this year with the recent announcement of football season tickets on sale and due May 10 - will also contribute to that total.
"It's going to have to be all self-generated funds," says UL President E. Joseph Savoie. "There's not going to be any state dollars involved at all. Those two revenue streams will pay for the first [tier]."
"Then we'll go out and raise what's left," Farmer says.
Savoie envisions the refurbished athletic complex as part of an even bigger entertainment region along Congress Street, with restaurants, apartments, retail outlets and other enhancements that will also benefit the Cajundome and its convention center.
"We want to create a destination point for the region and the state," Savoie says, "and that revenue will help pay for some of these other projects."
The biggest funding for the major second-tier projects, though, will come from Ragin' Cajun fans, those willing to purchase the sponsorships, private boxes and amenity seating. The benefits of the project, including increased exposure and potential membership in higher-tier conferences, are directly dependent on those buying into the project.
"A lot of people right now want to be associated with our team," Hudspeth says, "so hopefully that can springboard this entire project. I think the faster our fans realize that they can make a difference, it can happen very quickly."
UL's Master Plan
The full 107-page UL athletic facilities master plan and a power-point presentation are available online at www.ragincajuns.com. A brief synopsis:
(construction beginning this year)
1. Athletic practice/office facility, primarily for football two-story, 71,000-square-feet for offices, locker rooms, meeting rooms, support areas including weight and training rooms, cost $13.84 million
2. South end zone seating at Cajun Field "bowling" the south end to add 5,900 seats to the current capacity of 31,000, cost $5.17 million
3. Track/soccer facility renovation office and locker-room facilities for both sports, currently almost non-existent, cost $2.64 million
(construction beginning in 3-5 years)
4. Cajun Field renovation west-side 23,500-square-foot building for offices, 1,200 club seats, 128 loge seats and 37 box suites along with new press box, two options for upper-deck renovation, addition of second deck with 9,546 seats on east side for total stadium capacity of approximately 50,000, cost $57.53 million
5. "Tigue" Moore field renovation seating increase to 4,500 with up to half chair-back seating, box suites and press box, renovation of offices and locker rooms, cost $9.74 million
(construction when funding available)
6. Basketball practice facility at corner of Cajundome Boulevard and Reinhardt Drive (current practice facility to be converted to weight training area), cost $5 million
7. Academic Center renovation of current main-campus Conference Center to include computer lab, classroom, tutoring labs and study lounges, cost $3.91 million
8. Culotta Tennis Center addition of four-court indoor facility, expansion of offices and locker rooms, cost $3.36 million
9. Earl K. Long Gym options for renovations for volleyball-only or volleyball-basketball to include emerging sport of sand volleyball, cost $3.24 million
10. Plaza concept to be determined, a gathering point for fans and student-athletes in the 4-acre open space created by facility relocation and demolition of current complex, cost $2.91 million