The University of South Alabama is moving on with its plans to construct an on-campus stadium, despite the recent defeat of a partial public funding plan.
At its Board of Trustees meeting Friday, Aug. 31, the university announced a private fundraising effort in hopes to keep stadium plans on schedule to open for the 2020 season.
“We’re committed to having a stadium,” USA President Tony Waldrop told board members. “We are committed to having it open for the 2020 season.”
The announcement comes after the Mobile City Council, in a 4-3 decision, denied a funding plan that would’ve given the university $500,000 per year for 20 years for a total of $10 million. The letter of intent councilors voted down would’ve required USA to kickback $2.5 million for improvements to Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the 70-year-old city-owned stadium that currently hosts the Jaguars home football games.
Waldrop thanked stadium supporters for their efforts during a month-long debate before announcing the private effort. While the university is committed to a stadium, Waldrop said it wouldn’t come at the expense of students’ tuition costs.
“We have to have a financial plan in place … ,” he said.
USA Athletic Director Joel Erdmann said the university has had private conversations with large donors about the stadium, but the fundraising campaign would target all donations large and small.
“As the president said we’ve been executing a plan for larger gifts,” he said. “This all-encompassing campaign provides for gifts from people according to desire and means.”
The so-called “Get On Campus” campaign has a website, which is already active at www.southalabama.edu/getoncampus. The campaign has already registered 38 donations and $26,386, as of Friday afternoon. The website shows the university would like to attract 1,000 donors.
A statement from the university stated an on-campus stadium would propel the athletics programs to “a new level of excellence, success and prestige.” The stadium would have the added benefit of more high-profile recruiting.
“The stadium will enhance the identity of Jaguar sports among prospective student-athletes, increase opportunities for regional and national television coverage and elevate South Alabama’s ability to recruit at a higher level in all sports,” the statement read.
As for a goal for the campaign, Erdmann simply said it was “to raise as much as we can.”
Erdmann also acknowledged a time crunch involved in the campaign, as officials are pushing to have the stadium open in about two years. He said the faster the money can come, the better it would be for the 2020 target.
Fundraising efforts for the stadium will be ongoing, according to the statement. The campaign will be monitored continuously and its progress will determine when the university can move on to a next phase in stadium construction. Debt service for the “state-of-the-art” stadium will be paid mostly from “redirected, internal expenditures that are currently being used toward rent” at Ladd, according to the statement.
Erdmann said site work had began on the stadium property. The work consists of moving and leveling dirt, as well as building retaining walls.
One argument against public money for the stadium is that the university has a multi-million-dollar foundation and endowment. During a press briefing, Erdmann said the foundation and endowment were used for academic pursuits and wouldn’t be tapped in order to build a stadium.
Despite the council’s “no” vote, Erdmann said the university remains committed to working with community when it comes to events like the Dollar General Bowl, the Senior Bowl, or city-sponsored events.