The University of South Alabama Board of Trustees has accepted a suite of construction bids paving the way for an on-campus stadium.
Athletic Director Joel Erdmann said the authorization of these projects will keep USA on schedule to have the facility open and hosting games by the start of the Jaguars’ 2020 season. When completed, Erdmann said the new stadium would “change who we are” and plant the seeds for new traditions that will define “game day” for Jaguar fans.
“There is a public perception of what is considered a college game day, and for a majority of universities, those are on college campuses,” he said. “People tend to go to the same place every game, then their children will come with them and their grandchildren will come with them. Quite honestly, the full impact is beyond my years. A decade or two down the road is where we’re really going to reap the benefits of these efforts today.”
The 25,000-seat football stadium will be located on the west side of campus in the vicinity of the Jaguars’ training center, fieldhouse and practice fields on John Counts Drive.
Groundwork has already begun on the site, and Phase II will ultimately build out the concrete bowl for seating, the press tower, an athletic administration building and underground utilities.
All told, the bids accepted by the board on Saturday add up to just less than $25.5 million — money that will be split between JESCO Construction, Wharton Smith general contractors and Persons Services. The overall cost of the entire project is still estimated to be $75 million.
The university itself will serve as the project’s “prime contractor,” and according to President Tony Waldrop, USA expects to save an estimated 15 percent over the life of the project by using some of its own staff to handle certain aspects of the stadium’s construction.
According to Waldrop, USA plans to borrow around $68 million to pay for the construction of the rest of the stadium in early 2019, adding that ongoing fundraising efforts and any future contributions would go toward paying down the debt service on that bond over time.
Waldrop said he’d seen first hand the impact an on-campus stadium can have on a football program and the broader student body during his time as provost at the University of Central Florida. When he took that job, UCF’s football stadium was just two years old.
“By everyone’s estimate there was a huge change on campus,” he said. “Students became far more engaged in athletics. There were simple little things like many students weren’t wearing UCF shirts before, but converted to that after the stadium [was built] on campus.”
He said stadiums on other college campuses have “helped bring about growth in enrollment,” and he expects USA to see similar results after the Jaguars’ new facility is completed.
After the unanimous vote to accept the bids on Nov. 10, Chairman Ken Simon said the Board of Trustees was excited about the stadium. He also said the members of the board wouldn’t have moved forward with funding Phase II if they weren’t comfortable with the plan for financing.
“Everybody can get excited about having a stadium, but the practical details do matter and not overextending our resources is really important. We don’t want to saddle students or the next generation of university leadership with a lot of debt,” Simon said. “There’s been a very careful financial plan that’s been laid out, and as trustees, we’ve been grateful for the leadership the athletic department, the financial team and the university president have shown in making sure we don’t get overcommitted and that we have a responsible plan to make this happen.”
Part of the plan to bring the stadium into reality was derailed earlier this year when the Mobile City Council rejected a plan developed by Mayor Sandy Stimpson that would have seen the city contribute $500,000 per year for 20 years in exchange for USA’s assistance renovating and downsizing the Jaguars’ current homefield at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Maysville.
The plan ultimately fell through, though the Mobile County Commission did later agree to contribute $2.5 million towards an academic center for student-athletes that will be located inside the administration building connected to the new stadium.
Despite bumps in the road, Simon said there were “no hard feelings whatsoever” and thanked the board of Ladd-Peebles for hosting the Jaguars’ games over the last decade.
“Ladd Stadium had been a good home, but we’re now looking forward to digging dirt here,” Simon said.