FIU plans $50 million stadium, student center
By Risa Polansky
Florida International University hopes to kick off the 2008 football season in a new stadium on campus after sharing the Orange Bowl this fall with the University of Miami.
University officials plan to open a 100,000-square-foot student center next to the new stadium two years later. They say the two projects will cost more than $50 million.
"Right now, what we have is a high-school stadium," said Alexander Zyne, the university's associate vice president for real estate development who was university treasurer during planning of the project. "In order for us to compete, we need to have better amenities and more seats."
FIU Stadium, on the University Park campus in western Miami-Dade County, has 7,500 permanent seats and cost $3 million to build in 1995.
The first phase of the new stadium, to be built on the site of the current facility, is to have 18,000 seats and 14 suites, said FIU athletic director Pete Garcia. He said the stadium eventually will have 45,000 seats, a concourse and a press level although there is no timeline for those expansions.
During construction this year, university and Miami city officials hope the team will play in the city-owned Orange Bowl.
"The City of Miami is working with FIU on an agreement that would allow them to play their 2007 games at the Orange Bowl," Kelly Penton, the city's director of communications, said in an e-mail. "Since UM is currently our tenant, the FIU team schedule would have to work around already-scheduled UM games. We are optimistic that we will be able to work out the scheduling and have an agreement with FIU."
City Manager Pete Hernandez confirmed talks with FIU during a briefing of county commissioners Tuesday on a proposed downtown baseball stadium.
The Golden Panthers' football schedule for '07 has not been completed, according to the team's Web site.
FIU home games drew an average 9,700, almost one-fourth of the student population, in the football program's first four seasons, 2002-05. The Golden Panthers lost all their games last year, their first in NCAA Division 1A.
The university's board of trustees in September gave administrators permission to seek up to $35 million in financing for the stadium, and the university secured a loan from Regions Bank.
FIU will repay the loan with revenue generated by the new facility, which could host concerts, Major League Soccer matches and high-school football games in addition to university sports events, Mr. Zyne said.
The board was not satisfied with adding an athletics facility only. "They wanted something along with the stadium that included some major component for the students of FIU," Mr. Zyne said.
The 100,000-square-foot student-services complex is to wrap around the stadium and house admissions offices, a welcome center, a cashiers' office, financial-aid offices, academic advisors' offices and a learning center.
"The stadium was not enough. We needed to bring more to students by building the support complex," Mr. Zyne said. "We believe at least 100,000 students every year will be served in this building."
The university expects $14 million in funding from the state university system's capital-improvement fund financed by students' tuition, he said.
Money from the fund is earmarked annually for student-related projects, Mr. Zyne said. He said the complex will not detract funds from academic endeavors such as the university's new medical school.
Officials plan to request an additional $6 million to $8 million in 2009 from Public Educational Capital Outlay funds, the state's primary method for financing school construction.
"There is competition from the PECO dollars," Mr. Zyne said. "But the board of trustees would not have approved it if they weren't behind it. They think it's a very important project."