October 22, 2014

College Athletics

Prime Time

FAU's ambitions for an on-campus athletic complex are as bold and brash as its football team.

David Villano | 12/1/2005
Two years ago, Florida Atlantic University's upstart football team, in just its third season, set NCAA records as the youngest division I-AA team to defeat a division I opponent and as the youngest to reach the national championship semifinals. Now, school officials are moving at the same breakneck speed to bring a state-of-the-art football stadium to FAU's suburban Boca Raton campus.

THE GOAL: FAU's state-of-the-art stadium could cost more than $130 million."We're looking at opportunities to go farther, faster," says FAU President Frank Brogan, explaining the school's plan to accept proposals from private developers to finance, build and operate a facility that combines student housing, retail space and a 40,000-seat domed stadium. The price tag could exceed $130 million. FAU wants construction complete for the 2007 season opener.

As early as next month a committee will decide how to proceed. Its deliberations include three proposals, one of which adds a 100,000-sq.-ft. cancer treatment center to the required mix of housing, retail and athletic facilities. If one of the three is selected, Brogan says, the developer will assume all financial risks and, in return, receive all revenue for parking, private leases and other non-school-related events. FAU would also use the stadium for basketball games and graduation.

For all its initial success, FAU's football team, despite massive public appeals, failed last year to attract the 15,000 minimum average attendance required by the NCAA for division I status. (The rule has since been amended, requiring 15,000 tickets sold, regardless of how many fans actually attend.) Last year, the team averaged just under 11,000 at Broward County's Lockhart Stadium. This year, the Owls are drawing just under 14,000.

GAME PLAN: FAU President Frank Brogan: "We're looking at opportunities to go farther, faster."As a better model, some point to the more modest ambitions of Miami's Florida International University, which launched NCAA football in 2002. The Golden Panthers, who drew an average of 10,095 last year using some temporary seating, plan to triple the capacity of their modest on-campus stadium to about 23,000 permanent seats. The total cost was estimated at less than $10 million when first floated a few years ago.

Many residents are also concerned about traffic, citing it as the No. 1 threat to quality of life. Resentment has lingered since FAU allowed a high-volume shopping center, University Commons, to be built adjacent to its main campus in 2001.

This time, FAU officials say, the school will work closely with city and county officials. An on-campus housing and athletic complex, Brogan argues, will add a vitality that traditional commuter schools, like FAU, lack. "We think it is an absolutely critical part of our evolution," says Brogan. "And right now we're trying to explore innovative ways of achieving that."

Tags: Southeast, Education

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