University of North Alabama officials are taking a cautious approach to a study group’s report that encourages the continued exploration of a new football stadium as they await a response from President Ken Kitts.
The University Stadium Work Group forwarded its 8-page report to Kitts last week. The eight voting members on the committee spent five months collecting input from students, data on stadiums from other Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision universities in Alabama, and thoughts on pros and cons of building a stadium and not building it.
The work group members represent campus groups such as students, faculty, staff and alumni as well as the community. They include student Grant Gunn, SGA President Chase Holcombe, UNA Alumni Association and community member Michelle Eubanks, community member Chester McKinney, Sportsman’s Club board member and alumnus Dr. Tim Morgan, UNA faculty member and alumna Dr. Lee Renfroe, UNA Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs Evan Thornton, and UNA Business Manager and senior woman administrator Debbie Williams.
Athletics Director Mark Linder is a non-voting member of the committee.
The stadium issue surfaced followed a Student Government Association survey in November 2018. More than 1,700 students participated in the survey. One of the questions on the survey asked: “Are you interested in the university exploring the possibility of an on-campus football/soccer stadium?”
More than 70 percent of the students responding indicated they were in favor of such an effort. As a result, the SGA passed a resolution on Nov. 29, 2018, requesting the university to create a work group to explore the costs and feasibility of a new stadium.
The fact this effort was initiated by the students of the university is a very important point, and the students later backed their commitment to the idea by indicating they were comfortable with an $8 per semester hour fee increase to help fund the construction. That’s putting your money where your mouth is.
Kitts understands the significance of both those points.
“The main takeaway … is the students are passionate enough on this topic that they are willing to help. That’s a great message to send,” he said.
However, the financial reality of such an undertaking is apparent – revenues generated by additional student fees will come nowhere close to generating the millions of dollars needed to build a new football stadium. And therein is the challenge.
Simpson Russell, president pro tempore of the university’s board of trustees, stressed last week the public must understand an undertaking this large is not something that can happen quickly.
And Trustee Steve Pierce emphasized the ultimate key to such a project is building a broad base of support.
“We need to … get out in the community and see if there is interest in some businesses to help fund it, if it’s deemed to be feasible,” he said. “Now that this report is ready, I think it gives us a platform to meet and discuss this in a very serious nature.”
The next move is Kitts’s. He indicated last week he will delve “deeply” into the study group’s report and prepare a formal response, “very likely in the form of an open letter,” in a couple of weeks.