Rutgers to Move Ahead With Football Stadium Expansion

Fri December 19, 2008 - Northeast Edition
Geoff MulvIhill - Associated Press



NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) Rutgers University will continue with a scaled-back expansion of its football stadium, but will have to borrow the entire amount of the project after private fundraising efforts fell flat.

The decision, approved unanimously by the university’s board of governors on Dec. 12, came after the school fired athletic director Robert E. Mulcahy, who was seen as the architect of a major sports program at the flagship state university.

School officials are presenting the expansion as a declaration that the school will continue to strive for a role in big-time athletics even without Mulcahy, whose firing is shrouded in political intrigue and has some opponents of big-time sports optimistic and Rutgers sports boosters angry.

Members of the board of governors also said moving ahead with the stadium expansion was necessary to generate additional revenue to pay for an expansion that’s already well under way.

The overall price is to remain at the $102 million previously approved. But with higher cost estimates than expected, the school decided to scale back plans, eliminating elements such as new locker rooms and media rooms that would not bring in more revenue.

Plans remain to enclose the open south end zone of the stadium with 11,500 new seats, and add concession stands, rest rooms and other features to that part of the stadium.

Officials say they have already spent more than $60 million on plans and work, including nearly 1,000 seats in premium boxes that opened in September.

The original plan was for Rutgers to borrow $72 million and seek $30 million in private donations.

But amid a recession, that money did not materialize. In a letter to the Rutgers board, Gov. Jon S. Corzine pledged to help raise money when times are better. He also expressed support for the scaled-back plan, pointing out that it will create jobs.

The university now says the expanded stadium will generate enough additional revenue to more than recoup the $6.9 million in debt payments it will have to make to borrow the entire amount for construction.

“If we were to stop the project today, we would have a $65 million bill,’’ said George Zoffinger, a member of the board of governors, “but only eight or nine hundred seats to generate the cash to pay that bill.’’

During the board meeting, red-clad fans heckled Zoffinger, who initially opposed the way the university wanted to pay for the stadium project, and, especially, University President Richard L. McCormick. One fan yelled, “McCormick should be fired!’’ The fans cheered when Mulcahy’s daughter, Megan Mulcahy, spoke to the board.