Luck on $106 million facilities project: ‘Fans expect more’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Athletics director Oliver Luck said a $106 million campus-wide renovation project is necessary to meet the rising expectations of ticket-buyers and keep West Virginia’s facilities competitive with its Big 12 rivals.

A new 150-seat football team room could be completed by mid-December, to be followed by the expansion of concourses at Milan Puskar Stadium. The yet-to-be designed third phase would include expansion of the WVU Coliseum’s cramped concourses, complete with remodeled restrooms and concessions.

“Fans expect more, and they should expect more, because we charge them more money,” Luck said Tuesday during a news conference at the Coliseum.

A $75 million bond issue represents the largest financing piece of the project, in concert with $25 million from Mountaineer Athletic Club donations and $6 million from the school’s media-rights deal with IMG College.

It would mark the athletics department’s first dip into the bond market since 2003, when it remodeled the football stadium’s north end zone to include the 648-seat Touchdown Terrace. Aiming to pay off the bond with an incrementally increasing share of Big 12 revenue, Luck said the school also wanted to capitalize on low interest rates.

“A year from now the cost of borrowing might have risen significantly,” he said.

MORE: Watch Luck’s full Q-and-A session from Tuesday.

While WVU’s move to the Big 12 Conference spiked travel costs and fast-tracked spending on facilities, it also bolstered revenue to cover those expenses. The Big 12 paid out $22 million to each of its eight holdover schools last year, while newcomers West Virginia and TCU received a 50-percent share worth $11 million each. That share grows to 67 percent this May and 84 percent for the 2014-15 school year. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs are scheduled to receive whole shares for 2015-16.

“If you look at the Big 12 payouts, which in turn come from Fox and ESPN, and compare those to what we were earning in the Big East, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in mathematics to run the numbers,” Luck said. “Certainly the affiliation with the Big 12 has given us the financial capacity to do a bond.”

The initial phase also includes the addition of four LED video boards to placed in the corners of the football stadium, boards that will presumably show replays and game stats along with new display points for IMG-sold advertising. An events marquee will be positioned outside the Coliseum, at the interaction of Monongahela Boulevard and Patteson Drive.

The basketball coliseum opened in 1970 and the football stadium followed in 1980, during which time Luck played quarterback for the Mountaineers.

“A lot of our competition venues—primarily football and here at the Coliseum—have aged,” Luck said. “We’ve maintained them very well and they’ve aged very gracefully, but we’ve reached a point where we believe we need to upgrade these facilities.

“We don’t anticipate—at least in the next 10 or 15 years—building a new basketball arena or a new football stadium. That’s really prohibitive in terms of cost.”

Once the College of Physical Activity and Sports Science relocates to the Evansdale campus, the Coliseum concourses can be expanded by extracting space utilized currently for classrooms and racquetball courts.

Along with easing the bottlenecks of bodies, Luck said the project would shorten lines for restrooms and concessions. The men’s-room troughs and intermittent tiny restrooms have long been considered inadequate for the 14,000-seat venue.

“We are 102 restroom units short of what we need for a building of this capacity, and that’s significant,” said Luck, adding that there is room for an additional 21 points-of-sale. “If you go out at halftime and there’s 10,000 or 11,000 people, it gets pretty crowded.”

Luck put the timetable for Coliseum upgrades at two to three years, but said there are no plans to add luxury suites, an amenity desired by basketball coach Bob Huggins.

Coliseum parking has long represented a headache, leading hundreds of fans to park along the shoulder of busy Monongahela Boulevard. Luck said the repurposing of the baseball team’s Hawley Field, at least in the short term, could go toward an additional 250 parking spaces.

“We all know it’s tight—there’s not enough parking, certainly for men’s basketball games,” Luck said. “(Parking) is not a very attractive topic to talk about for a lot of folks, but any sports venue without adequate parking really becomes a white elephant very quickly.”

The project calls for the construction of a second locker room at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium. Since the venue opened in 2004, visiting teams have been ushered into a temporary tent, which Luck said reflects poorly on WVU.

“There’s nowhere our girls go that they have to spend halftime in a tent,” Luck said.

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