At his first board meeting Monday as Finley Stadium/Davenport Field executive director, Paul Smith joined Chairman of the Board Bryan Patten leading discussions about future plans for the facility. Alcohol sales and the field’s playing surface were major topics under consideration.
Currently, the stadium outsources catering to a third-party vendor, Family Concessions, whose contract will expire Aug. 1, 2014. Mr. Smith has notified the company that the contract will not be renewed in its current form. The group has been fair and done a good job for the stadium, he said, but the facility needs the ability to control the entire event including catering and alcohol sales in addition to rental and parking.
Catering and alcohol sales can provide a huge revenue stream, he told the board, adding that he has had experience doing both and is comfortable managing it. One example of profitability he used is when a customer brings in their own catering service, they must buy out the rights from Family Concessions which then receives that money for doing nothing.
Plans would be to only sell alcohol at events where it already is being sold and is appropriate. Mr. Patten said that David Blackburn, UTC athletic director, is open to discussions of selling beer and wine at football games, and that it would be its decision. Mr. Smith said it is a broader conversation than just UTC. There are many organizations that use the Finley Stadium campus for functions in the sky boxes and the stadium club for events other than those related to football.
He plans for every stadium employee to be certified by the TIPS training program which teaches how to sell alcohol responsibly. There is the possibility that the license could include managing alcohol sales at the Chattanooga Market as well as the stadium.
The Liberty Bowl has set the precedent of alcohol sales in a municipally owned stadium, board members were told. Mr. Patten said this practice is evolving and moving forward and needs to be looked at.
Off-duty Chattanooga Police officers would be present on site at each event where alcohol is sold. This is one way to mitigate responsibility, said Mr. Smith. A risk study and review of the current insurance policy will be undertaken. He added that one of his primary jobs is to make sure the stadium and board do not get sued. A motion to continue to explore and consider all aspects of selling alcohol, including insurance issues, was passed with a unanimous vote.
The playing surface of the field was also deliberated. Three turf manufacturers have been consulted as of now. They all have advised that the artificial turf can be used at least one more year with grooming, and it was said that UTC football coach Russ Huesman has no concerns for player safety. It is the consensus that the best method of reconditioning it will be to brush the fibers and take up and redistribute the rubber pellets that will fluff up the pile surface. Originally, plans were to replace sand in the subsurface with gravel, but it is felt the turf should be left in place because it might not withstand the stress of moving it. This can be done for an estimated cost of $10,000-$20,000 and will be done before the UTC spring game on April 11.
When that turf was installed, it came with an eight-year warranty, but with a life expectancy of 12-15 years under perfect conditions. The painted lines have attracted ultraviolet rays causing deterioration to the fibers under the paint, and divots are beginning to show up on the north side of the field. Prior to the 2011 season it was estimated that the field could be used an additional three to five years. It has seen three years of play since then, with 2014 expected to be the final season.
Board member Mike Davis, who oversees maintenance of the facility, said there is time to make more informed decisions. The cost to replace the field is expected to be $750,000. He said new types of artificial turf are evolving. Those being considered still have an 8-10-year warranty if maintenance work is done as recommended by the manufacturer. He said the cost to do so would be around $8,000-$10,000 annually. Because the location is close to Calhoun, Ga. where all the turf is made, there is a possibility that Finley Stadium could be used as a showplace for the manufacturer that is chosen.
The stadium board will have to gear up the fundraising, with a window of 9-15 months, said board member Gordon Davenport Jr. Past executive director Merrill Eckstein suggested that the principal users of the field should partner in raising the money.
The Chattanooga Football Club is hopeful that the new field will be green and unlined so it can be painted for either football or soccer. That way it could accommodate both sports and more big name soccer teams may play here, said Mr. Patten. So far, only one college stadium has been found that has an unpainted field. Mr. Davis said that talking to paint companies and determining the labor costs would be part of the discussion. “It may help with fundraising if we can do this,” added Mr. Smith.
Replacing the blue seats for better ones is also on the table. It is seen as a way to improve the fan experience and in turn sell more seats.
Mr. Smith introduced the Stadium Corporation’s newly hired venue manager, Brian Wright. He is a UTC graduate in sports administration, and has worked at the stadium for four years. The temperatures plummeted on the first week of his new job and, to Brian’s credit, he made the decision to drain the plumbing system and turn off the water, said Mr. Smith. His pre-emptive measures prevented a catastrophic event. Even with the precautions, the stadium sustained 51 separate broken water lines costing $5,000-$6,000 in repairs, but it could have been much worse if they had been full of water. The building has never been that cold before, he said. A blow-out has now been added which will completely empty the system.
Other items reported on at the Monday meeting included the news that the stadium has retained every tenant from 2013. The stadium complex will now be converting from operating as a cash business to the accrual and unlined so it can be painted for either football or soccer. That way it could accommodate both sports and more big name soccer teams may play here, said Mr. Patten. So far, only one college stadium has been found that has an unpainted field. Mr. Davis said that talking to paint companies and determining the labor costs would be part of the discussion. And, Mr. Smith said that he is in the process of presenting the stadium to concert promoters.
The facility also has a new website that will be active in the near future with a slightly changed logo. It will capitalize on the fact that events taking place at the stadium bring more people together than anything else in the city. The phrase “Where Chattanooga Plays” will now appear beside the existing logo.