March 24, 2005
Minneapolis, Minn. — Surrounded by leaping cheerleaders, a frantic Goldy Gopher mascot, and the University of Minnesota marching band, university and bank officials stood side by side under the facade of the old Memorial Stadium.
University President Robert Bruininks announced the deal with TCF to an audience of about 200 Gopher fans at the pep rally at the McNamara Alumni Center -- which was built on the site of Memorial Stadium, where the Gophers played football until moving to the Metrodome in 1982. "The University of Minnesota and one of the premier corporations in Minnesota, TCF Financial Corporation, have joined forces in a naming rights corporate sponsorship that will provide $35 million over 25 years," said Bruininks.
TCF officials praised the university as an economic engine for the state. CEO Bill Cooper called the university a powerful, positive influence, and said the bank is happy to support the U's efforts to build a new stadium.
"A football game is not just a game. It's everybody coming together and celebrating the heritage of this university, and what it's contributed to the state overall," Cooper said. "And so we look at this contribution as a real positive connection."
Corporate names on stadiums are commonplace in professional sports these days, but it's not usual in college athletics. Bruininks downplayed concerns.
"This will be tasteful, it will be elegant, it will be in keeping with the character and rich traditions of the University of Minnesota. ... We do not want this to look like a NASCAR speedway," Bruininks said.
University officials are touting the TCF deal as an "anchor donation" that will inspire other corporations and individuals to contribute.
A stadium bill at the Legislature requires the university to come up with 60 percent of the funding for the $235 million stadium. The legislation says once the U raises its portion -- a total of $141 million -- the state would kick in the remaining 40 percent. Taxpayers would contribute $7 million a year for 25 years.
Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, is chief author of the Senate bill. He calls the deal with TCF a "shot in the arm" for his legislation. He says he's confidant can get the bill passed this session.
"But I'm also realistic enough to know we've got 60 days, and it's a tough time in the Legislature with tough budgets, and a lot of issues going on," said Michel. "The only way to do this is to be bipartisan."
Though there is wide support among lawmakers for a stadium bill, Bill Cooper's politics have triggered at least one DFL lawmaker to criticize the deal.
Cooper is a former chair of the Minnesota Republican Party and is one of the state's leading conservatives.
DFL Sen. Larry Pogemiller, whose district includes the U, says he supports a new stadium, but he objects to the partnership with TCF.
Pogemiller distributed a statement at a U of M news conference following the deal's announcement, but refused to be recorded for broadcast.
The statement says Cooper supports less state investment in the U.
Pogemiller also questions why the university would give naming rights to TCF, when students and taxpayers will contribute more than $100 million toward the stadium, far more than the bank.
TCF spokesman Jason Korstange says Pogemiller's charges are purely political.
"That's just against any Republican. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't give the money, just because we have different views than he does," said Korstange.
University students do play a bigger role in the stadium's financing. The university proposal would raise $50 million in student fees. That translates to $50 a semester for every full time undergraduate and graduate student.
Student leaders have differing views on the fee increase. The undergraduate student body president says students are willing to pay, but he says those who graduate before the stadium opens shouldn't have to contribute. Abu Jalal, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, says he expects students will complain about the increase.
"It definitely will be hard on a number of students, especially graduate and professional students who depend on graduate assistantships or teaching assistantships. This will be another $100 directly out of our pocket, and they're already on a very lean budget," said Jalal.
Despite the complaints, the university's stadium project does appear to have momentum. A state Senate committee has approved the bill committing the state to funding 40 percent of the stadium's cost. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has also expressed his enthusiasm for bringing Gopher football back to campus.