The times they are a-changin’ for Gopher athletics

Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague announced a comprehensive facilities plan earlier this week in front of the university’s Board of Regents. Phase One of the assessment called for a $190 million building plan to give the campus athletic facilities a facelift to the new millenium.

The main draw of the facilities renovation brings the current Bierman area of Dinkytown to the forefront of the campus athletic training system. Though many of the current buildings and fields next to the Bierman Field Athletic Building house the major training and academic portions of campus, all need to updated and improved to service the future of Gopher athletics.

The idea stands that the multi-acre property will be the future home to almost all sports programs under one roof, when they are not hosting fans on game days. This includes the long sought after basketball practice facility that the men’s and women’s hoops programs have been clamoring years for.

The idea also takes the current Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex and flips it on it’s head like it was a run down house in the Dinkytown neighborhood. Head coach Jerry Kill would finally get the training facilities he has been begging for since he arrived on campus. Multiple outdoor playing surfaces, coupled with a state-of-the-art indoor facility, should give the football program the offseason amenities to equal the beauty of TCF Bank Stadium.

Other programs to cash in on the “athlete village” style structure are wrestling, women’s gymnastics, and many Olympic sports that currently call the area home. The whole project is estimated to take six to eight years and could be built in waves to allow some facilities to used while others are still being constructed.

One of the best things to hit the ears of locals is that the whole project is expected to be privately funded. This means no taxpayer dollars would be put forth into construction or development. In his presentation to the Board of Regents, Teague did state that specific donors and totals of already committed funds have not been calculated. He also stated that multiple donors have come forth in support of specific sports, but not of the comprehensive facilities plan as a whole.

This proposal is still in the early planning stages, but based on the time and commitment the higher-ups in the athletic department committed to the Board of Regents proposal, it looks as if the future of the University of Minnesota’s athletic campus looks bright.

Multiple questions will still need be answered with the project, including relocation of the outdoor track and field stadium that is located on site. The new project would place the outdoor football fields on top of said stadium. Teague stated that the athletic department was exploring multiple options for the future home of track and field, but it was too early to make a decision on the matter.

The other big question is timing and finances. When will this project break ground? Will the construction begin before the entire proposed $190 million is raised through private donors? Who gets the best parking spot in the included 300 space underground parking structure?

All kidding aside, this may be the largest facilities development the university has proposed in decades. TCF Bank Stadium was a grandiose project, but that was more or less just for football, the marching band, and various other club sports. This master facilities project would have a specific effect on all sports. Academics and health and wellness will be at the head of the project with enough space for all student athletes to receive appropriate educational success and a top of the line training table to feed the hungriest of Big Ten appetites.

Outside of the circus-style athletics building under one roof, it sounds as if Don Lucia will be getting an $8 million upgrade to Mariucci Arena for the locker and workout rooms. Across the street at Williams Arena, there is no mention in the Phase One proposal for any upgrades to the 85 year old landmark that last saw renovation in 1997. Historic for the sport of basketball, the building is due for some amenity upgrades to many of the fan areas including the concourses and restrooms. With the timetable set at just under a decade for the initial project, the next renovation to Williams may be completed by the time it hits the century mark.

Head baseball coach John Anderson should get the final finishing touches added to Siebert Field between Phase One of the project and the yet to be announced Phase Two of the project. Lets just hope Phase One will help shed some “light” on the new and improved baseball diamond.

Though just announced, keep your ear to the ground on future developments on this campus development. The Dinkytown area has received some public criticism about modernizing the area with the construction of new student housing structures. This facilities assessment could receive equal backlash due to the major construction traffic it would bring to the area. The endgame may benefit the community as a whole, but the longtime residents of the area could turn their noses up at it.

One thing’s for sure with this plan, Teague and his staff have no problem with sticking their noses out into wind, where they may or may not belong.

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Topics: Administration, Minnesota Golden Gophers

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