The University of Houston's brand-new $128 million football stadium was supposed to be a point of pride when it opened to students and fans last summer. Fast-forward seven months, and TDECU Stadium is just a continuing source of heartburn for UH officials.
Last night UH's student government cast a vote unanimously calling for the resignation of three university officials, one a key aide to UH President and Chancellor Renu Khator, largely because of problems surrounding the university's new stadium.
Three years ago, UH students voted to pay $45 more per semester for 25 years to help build TDECU. Students were also told some of that money would go to help renovate Hofheinz Pavilion, the university's basketball arena. However, building TDECU ultimately cost 20 percent more than what UH officials had projected, and the university is now asking for donations to help pay for fixing Hofheinz.
How the university has handled TCEDU is the subject of three ongoing internal audits, as the Houston Chronicle reported in-depth this past weekend. While one audit is supposedly probing whether the administration has complied with the agreement it made with students to boost fees to help fund the stadium, another audit is investigating whether Carl Carlucci, executive vice president for administration and finance and a top aid to Khator, skipped out on meeting with a committee that was monitoring how, exactly, those student fees are used each year.
Another probe is investigating whether Carlucci hired a contractor that didn't match up with the university's own bid requirements and was wholly unqualified to run events at TDECU. As emails obtained by the Chron's higher-ed reporter Benjamin Wermund show, Carlucci didn't listen to a top UH lawyer who cautioned him against hiring the current contractors, Aramark and VenuWorks, which submitted a bid to run TDECU collectively as Sports & Entertainment. Among the problems: VenuWorks had never operated a facility larger than 22,000 seats, even though UH's stadium is twice that size. The company had never booked events in a major metro area before. UH's original request wanted a contractor that could guarantee at least $1 million annual revenue to the school. S&E's bid had no minimum revenue guarantee.
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"This proposal does not meet the minimum requirement set forth in the RFP," UH assistant general counsel Eric Bentley wrote in a memo, according to the Chron. Bentley's suggestion? Reject the proposal and issue a new request if the university was indeed changing its requirements.
Carlucci's team hired S&E anyway.
"They don't care what we have to say," student president Charles Haston said in a speech before Wednesday night's no-confidence vote demanding that Carlucci and two of his subordinates resign or be fired, according to the Chron. "They live in a bubble over in E. Cullen and they have forgotten who they serve."
The no-confidence vote that passed Wednesday night reads: "The Division of Administration and Finance failed to construct the football stadium on budget and chose to use money allocated to the renovation of Hofheinz Arena to fund the additional cost of construction of the football stadium in direct conflict with the Memorandum of Understanding" between students and the university.