Temple trustees: Proceed with design of stadium

Posted: February 10, 2016

Despite a boisterous protest outside its meeting, and blistering comments from community members inside, Temple University's board of trustees on Monday decided to take the next step in pursuing an on-campus stadium.

Their unanimous vote came without debate following about an hour of comments from community residents, most of them critical, and a presentation by the board chair and the university president.

Their decision paves the way for designs to begin for a 35,000-seat stadium in the northwest corner of campus. The estimated cost of the project is $126 million, including construction - an increase from the original projection of $100 million. President Neil D. Theobald said the increase takes into account that prices for steel and other products may go up.

The project, the trustees said, will proceed only if enough funding can be secured - the board is seeking $50 million in donations, of which it has $12 million in hand and $15 million more in the pipeline - and city approvals can be obtained. They authorized spending no more than $1 million on a design and environmental impact study.

"What we're asking for today is design approval," Theobald said.

If approved, construction would begin in 2017, he said.

A task force including students, staff, and community members, will be formed this week, Theobald said, to look into other uses for the stadium than football.

The approval came at a special meeting of the board, which delayed a vote on the project in December after then-Mayor-elect Jim Kenney expressed concerns.

The move will allow the university to proceed with conceptual designs of the proposed stadium, and look into parking and other impacts on the neighborhood.

A coalition of student groups and North Philadelphia residents demonstrated outside Sullivan Hall, where the trustees held the meeting. They were loud enough to be heard from inside the building.

The organizations say they have formed a group called the Stadium Stompers to protest the proposed stadium, which the university says also will be funded by money that is now paid to the Eagles for use of Lincoln Financial Field. Theobald said the university would save $3 million a year with its own stadium.

Community residents were irate.

"The university is consistent in excluding the community," said resident Priscilla Woods. "There is no transparency."

Another resident, John Bowie, accused Temple of doing little for the community.

"Invest in what you're displacing. Make an investment in the acres of diamonds of young people in this community," he said.

Some of the comments took on racial tones, as African American residents addressed the largely white Temple board.

Deandra Jefferson, a Temple student and community member, accused the university of "systematically destroying a hub of black culture and creativity that has been here for years."

"That is not a good neighbor," she said.

Several trustees said the input was hard to hear.

"People are passionate and they're in pain," said trustee Drew Katz. "It's a difficult thing to see and experience, and I appreciate that. I don't think it changes the larger question as to whether or not a stadium is good for the students, alumni, and for the university, and for the residents, and I think that's something that will unfold in the months ahead.

"But I absolutely think it's imperative that we do a better job of making sure that the community not only is heard, but feels that they have been heard."

Board Chairman Patrick O'Connor said the university was working with the community and would continue to do so.

"We are not insensitive to where we live and who we are," he said. "We're working closely with community groups and people in the neighborhood to make sure this is a win-win for Temple and the neighborhood."

City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, whose district takes in Temple, also has expressed concerns about the stadium and has said the university needs to get the support of the neighborhood.

As for the student body at large, Ryan K. Rinaldi, president of student government, said he believes the majority are in favor of a stadium.

"Sometimes pushback from a few doesn't necessarily represent the student body," said Rinaldi, a senior finance major from the Scranton area. "Students are excited for the idea, the experience. . . . We saw what football can do for a university's image" with Temple's 2015 season.

A campus meeting last week, during which Theobald indicated that he would recommend that the project go forward, had to be shut down early due to protests.

ssnyder@phillynews.com 215-854-4693 @ssnyderinq www.inquirer.com/campusinq

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