UH Begins To Look At Renovating Its Football And Basketball Facilities

Lost amidst the news of a tuition increase and the "leave of absence" granted to associate basketball coach Marvin Haralson last week at the University of Houston was some big news coming out of the athletic department. That news was the school's retaining of Fortune 500 company AECOM to the study the proposals that have been made regarding Robertson Stadium and Hofheinz Pavilion. The study process is going to take 90-120 days, and it will cost the athletic department $300,000.  

And it's a study process that begins today.

"We'll have an all-day meeting with them, and they'll come back for three more of them," Houston Cougar Athletic Director Mack Rhoades told Hair Balls on Saturday. "On Tuesday we'll begin to talk about just about all of the different ideas we have -- potential renovation of stadium or new stadium, as well as Hofheinz, what we'd like to see done there. Certainly they'll ask a lot of questions. We'll ask them a lot of questions. And we'll talk about different ideas, different concepts. What about premium seating in Robertson Stadium. Is it suites? It is suites in the club level. There's new concepts like loge boxes. What are maybe the different -- what do we like about each of the different sites. It'll really be an exploratory session, a discovery session. So we're excited to get that going. We really are."

There are six proposals to be studied for Robertson Stadium, and two proposals that have been submitted for the renovation of Hofheinz. This will be an important process for the school and the athletic department as it's felt that one of the things working against the school when it comes to scheduling and recruiting is the state of the athletic facilities. And it's ultimately a process that will probably end up costing the department between $30-60 million.

There was some fight back last week about this, seeing as how the school's board of regents had just approved a tuition increase. But what people often fail to understand is that the money that will be used for the facility upgrade will not be coming out of tuition or any state funding.

"When you're looking at any type of capital project," Rhoades said,  "I think the one thing the people need to understand is that the state of Texas does not provide any type of money for athletic facilities. And so when we look at this project, we're really going to have to go out and raise money to make any of this happen. As well as then use revenues that we derive from the stadium. The suite money. The premium seating money. The parking. All of those things. Ticket sales to help us pay for it as well. That's where the money's derived. Completely separate from any type of increase in tuition."

It appears that the Cougars have found just the right partner in AECOM. The company recently purchased architectural/engineering firm Ellerbe Becket. And Ellerbe Becket has quite the history with stadium design, building, and renovation. Among their original projects were Chase Field (formerly The BOB) in Phoenix, Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Stadium which became Turner Field, Seattle's Qwest Field, and Rupp Arena at the University of Kentucky. And Ellerbe Becket was responsible for the post-Katrina renovation of the Superdome as well as the reboots of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, FedEx Field outside of Washington, D.C., Notre Dame Stadium, and Texas Tech's Jones Field.

The ultimate funding is going to be difficult, of course. But Rhoades has gone down this path before, having done this at the Akron. Rhoades has been using his time in Houston to know the alumni, the students, and donors.  

"I think people are excited," he said. "I think they're excited, and they feel like good things are happening. So I think they're certainly eager to see what the outcome of this study will be. What will we really put together in terms of our version and the direction that we go. I think people are really, really excited and really looking forward to the final result."

Since the money's not coming out taxpayer funding or tuition, and since the team could really use some new facilities, you can count me as being one of those who is also looking forward to the final result. Not that my opinion matters, but from what I've seen so far, Mack Rhoades is someone this Cougar alum has lots of faith in. And I'm sure we'll all be nicely rewarded.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal