“We all agree that it’s time to think about replacing the artificial turf,” said Executive Director Merrill Eckstein at the Tuesday meeting of the Finley Stadium Board of Directors. It is just a question of money, he added. The existing field was installed in 2005 with the turf being donated in exchange for using the field as a demonstration of the materials. The current estimate for replacement of the turf and of the underlying base, plus the cost of installation, is between $700,000 and a million dollars.
The original base was sand and half of it has already been replaced with crusher rock, a more durable material, so only 50 percent of the base will need to be changed. However, there will be the added expense to remove the remaining sand.
Board member Ricki Pierce said it might be counter-productive for fundraising that the Stadium Corporation has been operating in the black. Board Chairman Bryan Patten replied that the general operating budget has a surplus, but it is nowhere near what is needed to maintain the field. Maintenance-wise, he said, the board has been re-active not pro-active, spending very little for the last 10 years.
David Blackburn, UTC’s new athletic director, said the way the field has been patched by gluing and stitching is amazing. However, he said, “The field is horrific from a health safety perspective for the athletes.” He told the board that there are places that can be peeled up, there is “cratering” caused by settling and the surface is hard from being compacted. It is hoped that the city and county and the private sector will partner with the stadium corporation to obtain a new playing surface. Mr. Patten said bad publicity would come if a player was hurt because of the condition of the field.
Board member Gordon Davenport, Jr. noted that there is new leadership at key institutions, and that this year there is an outlook for a good football season. “The time might be right for the sun, moon and the stars to align.”
Mike Davis, board member in charge of maintenance, said he would speed up a meeting with two turf companies to assess the current playing field and give recommendations.
The board would like to accommodate the Chattanooga Football Club’s request that a new field be unlined so it could be more easily converted into a soccer field. How to do that on artificial turf is the problem. CFC has yet to find a field with an artificial surface that has done this to show as an example.
In reviewing the financial report from 2012-2013 and this year’s budgets, Mr. Eckstein told the board that 2012-2013 had been a good year all around. He said revenues were up as well as expenses compared to previous years, and the year ended with a surplus of $46,846.
A large maintenance project that will be complete by the first UTC game Thursday is installing TVs in the Stadium Club, the concession stands and the skyboxes at a cost of $31,000. It was decided to take this from the surplus amount generated in the last year, which leaves a surplus balance of around $15,000.
Expected revenue in the 2013-2014 budget is $661,979, and expenses are budgeted to be $603,953. Some sources of revenue include the Convention and Visitors Bureau, First Tennessee Bank for naming rights of the pavilion, skybox rentals, other advertising rights, parking and 30 percent of the concession sales. UTC pays $10,000 for each home football game, and $1,000 for soccer, while the stadium pays all the expenses for each event. These come out about equal, said Mr. Eckstein. This year, high school football will also be played at Finley Stadium for $1,000 per game. There will be four Sale Creek games, and already hosted were the High School Jamboree and the Red Bank/Boyd Buchanan game that could not be played on Red Bank’s rain-soaked field last weekend.
The largest place for revenue increases is seen as rental fees of the pavilion, said both Mr. Eckstein and his newly named replacement, Paul Smith. It is anticipated that 90 percent of events held previously will return, along with new ones such as the Komen Race for the Cure, which will be staged from Finley Stadium this year. Increased parking and concessions sales come from the 7,000-10,000 people that are expected to be at the event. With Mr. Smith’s contacts, it is also hoped that entertainment can be brought to the facility.
Mr. Davis informed the board of progress in the attempt to make skybox windows retractable. As of now, two companies have been consulted and two different plans discussed. One is for windows to slide open. However, for safety reasons, a bar placed 42 inches high would be required which would interfere by being in the line of sight for many people.
A second method for opening the windows is to have them raise up, similar to the press box windows. There have been some structural problems with this procedure that must be corrected before using this system.
When asked about season ticket sales for UTC football games, Mr. Blackburn said they were not great. He said UTC needs to be more competitive and that it is hard to expect people to invest if that doesn’t happen. He said UTC should be able to consistently compete.
The next board meeting is scheduled for Nov. 12 which is before the last Mocs conference game. "By then, we will know the prospects of getting into the play-offs and knowing if Finley Stadium will host a play-off game," said Mr. Patten.