Rutgers Starts Expanding Stadium Without All the Cash

Fri June 06, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Tom Hester Jr.

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) Fiscal hawks are worried Rutgers University has begun expanding its football stadium even though it lacks $30 million needed to complete the job.

Still, Gov. Jon S. Corzine said he’s confident the needed money will be privately raised.

Rutgers is borrowing $72 million for the project designed to add 14,000 seats to the 43,000-seat Piscataway facility.

But with construction advancing, Corzine and Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, haven’t begun raising $30 million in private funds they promised for the project.

“This raises the specter that New Jersey taxpayers will be called upon to pay for the expansion, if private donations do not materialize,’’ said Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris. “I will not support making the taxpayers bear this added burden.’’

The Star-Ledger of Newark reported about 80 percent of the demolition is complete on the stadium’s mezzanine level of the stadium and excavation also is under way at the stadium’s south end.

Corzine said he doesn’t think Rutgers is being irresponsible because the construction is being done in phases.

“I don’t think that’s a big problem,’’ Corzine said.

He said his advisers have been researching whether it’s ethical for a governor to raise money for the project, but expects those questions to be resolved soon, with fundraising starting quickly thereafter.

The governor said he expects he won’t be allowed to directly solicit specific people and corporations for money, but will be able to make general requests.

“It will be a little harder for me than what I might have anticipated, but I still have a lot of confidence that people will know that we’re interested and this will get done,’’ Corzine said.

He declined to predict how long it might take to raise the money, but said, “This is something that I think there’s great support for.’’

Corzine is a multimillionaire who once led Goldman Sachs. He has given $250,000 to the expansion project and said he’s pledged to give $1 million.

State Sen. Leonard Lance, R-Hunterdon, said he was concerned the needed money won’t be raised.

“We’re in an economic slowdown and it could be difficult to raise the money,’’ Lance said.

He said he feared taxpayers may end up having to foot the bill.

“I have nightmares about that in so many different areas,’’ Lance said.

Corzine and the university hopes the expansion will further improve Rutgers’ national profile.

The once-woebegone Rutgers football program has experienced a resurgence, including three consecutive bowl appearances and 26 wins in three seasons.

“The more we can enhance the reputation of the university on the broad scale of initiatives, including the sports program, the stronger New Jersey will be,’’ Corzine said.

But Merkt noted the stadium project comes with the state facing major budget woes.

“At a time when New Jersey is so strapped for cash that Gov. Corzine wants to close nine state parks to save $4 million, an expanded football stadium for Rutgers is a luxury the state clearly cannot afford,’’ he said.

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