ETSU says football and arts center projects not in competition

Nathan Baker • Oct 24, 2013 at 9:55 PM

Despite concerns voiced by a public official and educator, East Tennessee State University’s efforts to raise millions in donations for two emerging building projects are continuing as scheduled, university officials say.

At a Wednesday meeting, ETSU Associate Professor of Economics and Vice Chairman of Johnson City’s Public Building Authority Jon Smith suggested simultaneous fundraising for a $38 million fine and performing arts center and an $18 million football stadium could put the two projects at odds and affect the status of state contributions if either of them miss funding deadlines.

“We have to raise a certain amount of money within a finite period of time before the project goes away,” Smith said Wednesday during the PBA’s discussion of the arts center. “The clock is ticking. It’s a real problem, because we’re also trying to raise $18 million for a football stadium.”

But Jeff Anderson, ETSU’s interim vice president for university advancement, said there’s plenty of money to go around for the two projects, and said the theater has already passed the halfway mark for its locally sourced funding.

“There is not competition between the two projects,” Anderson said Wednesday. “(ETSU President) Dr. (Brian) Noland has set the arts center as the first priority.

“That being said, we have donors who would like to give to one or the other, and we have some who will support both,” he said. “I do not sense that one is robbing from the other, so to speak, and I feel very comfortable that both projects will proceed ahead well.”

Now moving into the design phase, the fine and performing arts center project will be paid for with 25 percent matching funds from the college and the remaining $28.5 million expected from state allocations.

The ETSU Arts Initiative was tasked with raising the university’s share, $9.5 million, by June 30 in order to take advantage of any state funding approved for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Anderson said the arts initiative is more than halfway to its goal, and he expects the group to raise the needed funding before next year’s deadline.

“As of today, in gifts and pledges, the ETSU Foundation has received $5.015 million, and if my math is correct, that puts us at 53 percent of our goal,” Anderson said. “We still are visiting individuals and organizations daily, and have made good progress, but we still have much good work ahead of us to finish.”

The bulk of the arts center’s funding has come from large donations from James C. Martin, who provided $3 million in February, and the ETSU Foundation, which announced a $1 million commitment in May.

When completed, the new center will be named for Martin and his late wife Mary.

Since February, Anderson said fundraisers have solicited donations from individuals and organizations both in person and through print and online marketing campaigns.

The arts initiative is offering room-naming and seat dedication opportunities for benefactors who meet a certain donation level.

Anderson said when an architect is named for the project and a building site is finalized, both of which should happen before the end of the year, he expects a flood of donations for the arts center.

The $18 million football stadium was approved July 11 by the Tennessee State Building Commission, but the funding specifics have not yet been set.

An increase in fees for the university’s 15,000 enrolled students will provide $7.5 million, with the remaining $10.5 million expected to come from an undetermined mix of state funds and private fundraising.

In the summer, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a vocal supporter of ETSU’s efforts to reboot its dormant football program and a member of the building commission, said he hopes to make sure some state funding for the 10,000-seat stadium and playing field will be included in next year’s budget.

Ramsey did note the state does not often provide taxpayer dollars for college athletic facilities.

Richard Sander, ETSU’s director of intercollegiate athletics, said fundraising efforts for the stadium are on hold until lawmakers determine the split of funding.

“We haven’t really done anything in terms of campaigning yet,” Sander said. “With the arts center initiative going on, we’re on hold until we know what the cost is truly going to be.”

Sander did say that informal discussions with potential donors in the community have been promising.

Like Anderson, Sander said there will likely not be much overlap between the donor pools for the two projects.

“You always want to make sure you aren’t competing with each other,” he said. “But those who might donate for an arts center and those who might donate for a football stadium don’t exactly have the same priorities.”

When fundraising for the stadium is under way, Sander said solicitors for the stadium and the center will keep the others’ efforts in mind.

Anderson said efforts to raise money for the two projects have been coordinated, and solicitors for one project often refer potential donor to the other to help better match their interests.

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