Costly arena option chosen UM seeks $106 million to completely replace aged Cole Field House

Move to north campus

Leaders in legislature balk at $61 million needed from taxpayers

December 02, 1997|By William F. Zorzi Jr. and Peter Jensen | William F. Zorzi Jr. and Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

In yesterday's editions of The Sun, it was stated incorrectly that the University of Maryland's Cole Field House is the oldest arena in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In fact, it is the third oldest, behind Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium and North Carolina State's Reynolds Coliseum.

The Sun regrets the error.

The University of Maryland, College Park wants to build a basketball arena on a north campus site to replace the venerable but outmoded Cole Field House -- a project now estimated to cost more than $100 million.

In a letter delivered yesterday to the legislature's fiscal leaders, university President William E. Kirwan said he concurs with earlier studies that found it is more cost-effective to replace Cole at another location than to renovate the aging facility or rebuild on its current site.


Accompanying the letter was a report noting the Maryland Stadium Authority's conclusion after a detailed study: It would cost $106.4 million to build an arena at the north campus site known as North Field.

That figure is significantly higher than the $80 million state officials have discussed for replacing Cole. In fact, all three options studied by the authority were found to be more expensive than that.

The $106.4 million includes $89.7 to construct a 17,000-seat arena, $8.1 million to build roads and another $8.6 to cover contingencies.

University officials have said that the school could provide no more than $45 million -- about $20 million from contributors and $25 million from selling the arena's name to a private company.

That leaves $61 million -- the bulk of which, Kirwan acknowledged, would have to come from the taxpayers.

"If it is to go forward, it will require a very significant contribution from the state," he said, though he said that university officials would be taking "a very hard look" at possible ways to bring down the overall cost.

The proposal to build at North Field still requires approval by the university system's board of regents, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the General Assembly.

The governor and legislative leaders have made clear they support using state money for a new arena -- though key lawmakers said yesterday that the university must indeed find ways to trim the project's cost.

"That number is going to have to be reduced," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a longtime advocate of the school's athletic program and supporter of replacing Cole.

"It's not a question of the size of the facility, but of bringing the overall cost down and assessing who pays for what," said Miller, a Prince George's Democrat.

Miller said he believed that Prince George's County, where the university is located, should be prepared to help pay for new roads to the arena.

He said he also hopes that a university alumnus contractor might propose to build the facility for a bargain price.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said he also supports building a new facility but believes the overall cost -- and the state's apparent contribution -- are both too high.

"I think $60 million-plus is an unthinkable amount of money for the public to provide for the facility," said Rawlings. "I think there needs to be substantial private giving."

Rawlings said such a large amount could deny funds for badly needed improvements to academic buildings at College Park and other university campuses. He said an appropriate taxpayer contribution would be "between zero and $60 million," but declined to be more specific.

"In the end, the state and the private sector and the university will build a new arena for that campus," he said. "The next step is to decide what is an appropriate level of public funding."

Cole Field House, home of the university's basketball teams, is the oldest arena in the Atlantic Coast Conference and one of the oldest in the country at a major Division I school.

After more than 40 years of use, it has become a problem. It lacks air conditioning, access for the disabled and adequate women's facilities. It also contains asbestos and lead paint.

The Maryland Stadium Authority's study of three options concluded that it would cost $95.3 million to renovate Cole or $115.4 million to tear it down and build an upgraded arena at its site.

University officials are expected to seek $4.5 million to start planning the project during the coming legislative session.

The school has not yet decided how a new Cole Field House would be used, although two campus committees have recommended it be put to nonathletic purposes.

If the proposal to replace Cole is approved, the new arena could be completed in 2002, state officials said.

Pub Date: 12/02/97

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