Private Sector Doing Heavy Lifting For Finley Stadium; Board To Seek Eckstein Replacement

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - by Gail Perry

The public/private partnership that supports Finley Stadium is working, but the private sector is doing the heavy lifting, said Executive Director of the Stadium Corporation, Merrill Eckstein, at the board meeting Tuesday. “You wouldn’t have a positive operating budget if it wasn’t for Friends of Finley,” he said.

Bryan Patten, chairman, told the board that since the financial report is in a positive position, there is a perception that the stadium doesn’t need the private funding. He said that private partnership is definitely needed as well as support from the city and county.

Planning ahead, major expenses are anticipated in several years because of the huge expense to replace the turf, he said.

At a recent informal meeting with Friends of Finley, Mr. Patten said around $63,000 was committed, including one sure gift of $10,000. In addition to Friends, the stadium board will approach others who have been generous in the past, he said. The goal is to raise $80,000 by June 30.

A large capital project was made last year involving repairs to the roof with an estimated cost of $80,000. The final cost of performing the work came in at $72,500, which is $8,000 less than the budgeted amount. Work was also done to eliminate uneven turf on the south side of the field, between the football and soccer side lines. This work was completed for a cost of $41,712. The total expense of both projects was funded by Friends of Finley.

The financial report for the seven months from July 1-Jan. 31 for the fiscal year 2012-2013 shows the anticipated total operating budget of $618,900. The amount spent through Jan. 31 was $410,739. Cash balances for the same time are $10,002 in the general fund checking account and $3,677 in the field renovation checking account. The general fund savings shows $171,127 and $112,018 in the field renovation savings account. A gift of $10,000 was specified to be used in a capital reserve savings account.

Mr. Eckstein said that overall revenues are down because UTC attendance was down, causing a decrease of income from concessions and parking. He told the board that the budget was OK because expenses have been kept low.

A decrease in funds from the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau is anticipated next year, he said, because that organization does not see the stadium facilities as having much effect on visitor traffic. Board member Gordon Davenport, Jr. said the Chattanooga Market every week generates a community service and does draw people. He commented that the stadium complex attracts people that are not necessarily football related, such as charity bike rides and an upcoming 5-K “Color Me Rad” run on March 30. These items do benefit the CVB which should encourage them to participate. Ryan Crimmins suggested looking at uses for the pavilion. The 50,000 square feet could be used for a number of mid-sized events, he said. Mr. Eckstein replied that the Chattanooga RV show on March 20-24 is an example. It will use space both in and outside of the pavilion.

The new website was announced by Mr. Eckstein. As soon as the domain name became available, it was bought by the stadium corporation. A calendar of events is updated constantly, which will show availability for prospective use. It has links to, to the Southern Conference, and Chattanooga Market among others. More information will be added to showcase amenities available at the pavilion. The need for a Facebook page was also discussed.

Mr. Crimmins lead the discussion about upgrades being considered for the Skyboxes. His suggestions for “improving the fan experience” is to add flat screen HD TVs to both the Skyboxes and the concession areas so no plays will be missed. He also told the board that he has heard requests to convert the fixed glass fronting the spaces to windows that open up or sliding glass doors so that seating would be outside and entertainment inside. That way, people would feel more connected to the game, it was noted. He also said if the cost is reasonable some box holders may be willing to pay for this.

Jerry Summers commented that the board should look out for everybody that buys a ticket. The improvements should not be only for the Skyboxes. Another suggestion for upgrades is to replace existing seats for season ticket holders to “theater seating.” Because of the expense, this could only be done in small areas, and might only be possible for ticket holders with at least a three-year commitment, said Mr. Eckstein.

Mr. Eckstein also said that all but five skyboxes are “homeowners”, meaning it is theirs forever, and they would be more likely to make the investment for upgrades. For the five boxes with yearly leases, it might be possible to offer the upgrades only if the tenants become homeowners. He agreed that new TVs would be beneficial, but said the current agreement with Comcast does not pay for HD reception, and that cost would be sizable, but added that now there is the ability to negotiate with EPB as well. He also said the closed circuit televised within the stadium could not be in HD because of limitations of the equipment.

Mr. Patten asked Mr. Eckstein to come to the next board meeting with costs for these improvements.

Looking to the future, the board will need to find a replacement for Mr. Eckstein. When he accepted the job, said Mr. Patten it w,as with the understanding that he would leave in June 2014. That gives the board 16 months from now to hire a new director. “I’d like to clone Merrill, he’s extremely easy to work with and full of integrity,” said Mr. Patten. “The bottom line is he is the role model for what we want to look for.”

The hope is to hire someone for the position by the end of this year. This would allow six months for Mr. Eckstein to train the new director.

The next meeting of the Stadium Board is tentatively scheduled for May 21.

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