Since Whit Babcock took over a little over a year ago the main problems facing the University of Cincinnati were staring him straight in the face everyday when looked out the Lindner Center windows; what to do with Nippert Stadium and 5/3rd Arena. After doing his research an all encompassing Master Facilities Plan that renovated both venues seemed like the right move as doing two construction projects at the same time would have saved money.
Now it looks like plans have been drawn up and a cost figure established. And it isn’t pretty:
The designs to renovate Fifth Third Arena and Nippert Stadium are already prepared at the University of Cincinnati. All that’s needed is the money to pay for them.
But at a combined cost of at least $160 million, it isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. There is no money set aside to pay for those plans, and UC’s top leaders haven’t approved fundraising or construction.
Here’s how it breaks out.
McGrew’s rough estimate for the Fifth Third Arena renovation is $100 million to $120 million, and $60 million to $70 million for the Nippert Stadium project.
$160 million is an absolutely daunting figure. It seems even more insurmountable considering the athletic department recently tapped their donors for $100 million to help fund the Varsity Village project and $15 million for the Sheakley Athletic Complex. Speaking to the former, while the upgrade wasn’t fully donor-driven the athletic department assumed millions of dollars in debt. There’s no telling if that donor field will be able to support as much of the project as it did before. There are definitely more private supporters now and they are more active than ever before but inquiring about a gift from them to help fund a $160 million project is a lot to ask.
In all likelihood if UC wants to begin construction they will have hope for more media money and will probably have to assume even more debt in addition to what they already owe for Varsity Village which might not be paid off until the 2020’s.
Which begs the question, why was renovating Nippert Stadium and 5/3rd Arena overlooked when the rest of UC athletics was upgraded? I realize the state of UC’s other facilities were less than ideal but not addressing the athletic department’s main revenue generators when they had the chance was a major mistake by the Bob Goin administration. Lumping Nippert, 5/3rd, and the rest of the facilities together in one major upgrade would have saved money in the long run. Instead of costing $100 million, maybe the pricetag would have been $180 – $190 million. I’m not sure, I’m really just guestimating on the figure but it would have surely been tens-of-millions of dollar less than what UC will have to pay in total which looks, at this time, to be $260 million or more. In addition, a renovated Nippert and 5/3rd with premium seating in 2005 could have eaten away at the debt at a much faster rate than it’s being depleted now.
Hell they might have even gotten the Bearcats into a new conference.
But we can’t look back on the past now. The reality is that the Whit Babcock administration must deal with the problem at hand of bringing both structures into the 21st century. It’s encouraging that they’ve actually put the plans together and done the research to understand just what it will cost them to upgrade UC’s prized possessions. But now that they are completed, this begs another question, why not reveal the plans to the general public?
Amidst the chaos of conference realignment and rumors of another good football coach looking around, some hard proof that the administration was doing anything in its power to position Cincinnati in the best place possible would have been nice. These plans are evidence of that but it appears that they have only been revealed to a select few, namely current UCATS and 1200 Club members as well as potential high-paying donors.
Unfortunately I myself can’t validate those claims as I am not a UCATS member (yet) and not privy to those meetings. But that’s what I’ve been told at least.
What this administration should be doing, and maybe they are planning to do this, is roll out the plans to the general public. Give the UC fanbase something rally around and an idea of what their money could actually be funding. From a financial perspective, it could create bigger checks from current donors or cause non-donors to step up and give money to UC athletics. While it probably wouldn’t be best to claim that the money was directly funding the projects until the Board of Trustees green lit construction, it would at least increase private funding for other needs in the meantime. Honestly I can’t see one negative thing about releasing the plans to the general public.
In the end though raising $160 million looks like Moon right now. If Cincinnati decides to move forward with this project, which I believe they must in order to stay relevant in college athletics, most of the money will probably be drawn from a new media deal and additional debt. We can hope and pray that our T. Boone Pickens is just days away from signing a multi-million dollar check but let’s face it he probably isn’t walking through that door.
It looks like Whit Babcock has his work cut out for him.