Maryland on revision mission Arena: The school is searching for ways to trim $26 million from the cost for a new facility to replace Cole Field House.

May 29, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

The University of Maryland, which proposes to solve its problem of too little arena by 2003, now has too much arena.

Long wedded to the idea of a $106 million basketball arena to replace aging Cole Field House, the university is trying to find a way to trim nearly $26 million from that figure, a task it hopes to achieve sometime in the next two weeks.

With the state pledging $35 million and the university able to gather $45 million, a committee on program redevelopment is revising the school's plans so that the arena would cost $80 million, which may alter the plans for the 17,000-seat, 480,000-square-foot palace proposed last November.

"The ideal program is more than we can afford," said Charles Sturtz, a vice president of administrative affairs at the university.

In the plans proposed last fall, the new arena was to have box seats, a dozen luxury suites, a better weight room, more locker rooms, offices and practice facilities for nonrevenue sports, a University of Maryland store, a meeting room for the Terrapin Club and an athletic hall of fame.

This would replace the 14,500-seat, 42-year-old Cole, ailing with a lack of air conditioning, a worn-down arena floor and noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Sturtz commands a committee, formed several weeks ago, to determine arena cutbacks. By the end of the month, he said, the committee will decide what may come out. He did say that a reduction in the number of seats is unlikely.

"It's fair to say that that's the last thing that we would do, but it's premature," Sturtz said. "We just started. By the end of May, we'll have a better fix on it."

A report issued last fall listed budget remedies such as eliminating video display systems, reducing loading dock and lobby areas or using elevators instead of escalators in the building. But Steven Hurtt, dean of the university's school of architecture and a member of the committee that issued the report, said that amenities such as office and locker-room space are often casualties when massive cutbacks have to be made.

Though Hurtt is not a part of the program re-evaluation team, he said that higher priority generally would be given to those parts of the building that would most affect visitors to the arena.

"The first thing people think about is the arena, the floor, the seats and how you get to the seats, much as you think about the space you occupy at the theater," Hurtt said. "Often, it's the back-of-the-house things that will suffer as a result of funding that is not as wonderful as it might be."

Academic considerations

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who is chairman the house appropriations committee, said he expected the state to contribute from $25 million to $40 million, though he added that the state's level could change depending on the building's academic connection to the rest of the campus.

He said he thought that classrooms were to be a part of the program, something that would increase his support for the project.

"They make a great selling point if there are academic activities in the arena. That would be greater justification for state support," Rawlings said. "We don't give degrees in basketball, though some young men make millions of dollars at it. But it's not a compelling state interest."

But for any of the program adjustments to matter, the school must first pick up $20 million to $25 million in donations to supplement money from student fees. University officials hope to see that happen within the next six months, but all they can do is ask, hope and wait.

"You don't know when someone might decide to donate $20 million," said athletic director Debbie Yow. "It can't be a building without a $20 million gift. As a campus, we need to find out if there's a way."

Yow said the university's office of institutional advancement is working to find individuals financially able and interested in having their names plastered on the new arena in exchange for $20 million.

Naming rights an option

At the same time, the school is hiring a firm to attract corporations interested in naming rights. The practice -- pioneered by Carrier's sponsorship of Syracuse University's dome in the late 1970s -- became common in professional sports franchises in the late 1980s and is now increasingly aped by colleges, including Georgia Tech, Fresno State, Texas Tech and Colorado.

One company that would seem natural is Pepsi, which already bought exclusive pouring rights at Maryland for the next 15 years for $8 million, money that erased the athletic department's $4.8 million deficit.

However, those familiar with the business of brokering corporate sponsorships say that such a union would be unlikely. Not only has Pepsi already spent $8 million on the school, but the company also would have to need publicity or access to the market that the university provides. After the pouring rights deal, it needs neither.

Access a selling point

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