A constant topic among University of Minnesota basketball fans in recent weeks (and really ever since Tubby Smith arrived) is the University's efforts to keep up with the Jonses and build a basketball development center for the men's and women's basketball programs. Both Coach Smith and Pam Borton have highlighted the need for the facility. We've seen players opine about the need. And I think we all can agree that in the recruiting world, top-notch facilities (like it or not) is a factor.
Because of the interest on the topic, I reached out to Athletic Director Joel Maturi and others involved in the process to update everyone on where things stand. I pushed on two questions specifically in my email correspondence. First, I wanted to see the design work that had been done. University officials stated in the Pioneer Press on January 28th that "a desired design for the "player development practice facility" appears to be set, as well as the estimated cost at $15 million, according to Minnesota associate athletics director/director of development David Crum."
With that news, I felt it was appropriate to see what the design looked like. I asked for initial design work or renderings and was provided with the following.
View of Practice Facility from Filming Platform:
Strength and Conditioning:
Nice renderings, I have to admit, but having drawings in place and making progress towards building something are two different things. I would add that in email correspondence Maturi said on Feb. 15th that "drawings ... are being changed as we speak." Associate AD Scott Ellison, who sent me the above images, suggested as Maturi did that plans are being revisited.
"As Joel has mentioned we are very early in this process," Ellison stated in an email, "In fact revisiting the facility design and layout as I write this, and feel this would be the best representation of what we are looking at for a practice facility adjacent to Williams Arena."
The second question I pushed on was the timeline of the project. The Golden Gopher Fund, which is working on the fundraising portion of the project, had noted on its Web site that the University had a goal of the fall of 2013 to break ground on the facility. Matt Slieter, associate director of athletic communications sent me this PDF on Feb. 13 which, at the time, was a verbatim version of the Golden Gopher Fund Web site. Here is the PDF which states the fall of 2013 goal:
Since that PDF was sent to me, Myron Medcalf of the Star Tribune asked Maturi about the 2013 goal. Here's a piece of that article:
Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said Wednesday that the university is still committed to building the facility. He said he believes the initial plan of a $20 million complex and a completion date of fall of 2013 are feasible, although fundraising hurdles remain.
"It's still realistic if we can raise the money," he said.
As of today, the Golden Gopher Fund Web site now states that the goal is to "break ground on the facility as soon as feasible." No more mentions of 2013.
In my various email exchanges with Maturi, it was clear that he didn't want to put a precise timetable on the project. I actually tend to understand this, as fundraising, development and construction tend to be inexact sciences when trying to specify a date certain.
Here is a part of my exchange with Maturi seeking clarification on the 2013 timeline and timelines in general.
I personally do not like to put timelines on projects as many actors determine the eventual date of ground breaking. We feel good about the process and our status at this time.
I eventually pushed on that question and sent Maturi the following:
The reason I'm pushing on this matter is a number of fans, as you can see on any message board and probably in your personal interactions, are looking for specifics. Myron Medcalf today reported that "according to those close to [Coach Smith]," the lack of progress on a facility is a "major, major issue for him."
Coach Smith is in the loop and has never expressed his displeasure to me. All of us would like it to be built tomorrow. It does not work like that. Look at the time on our stadium. The Twins. The Vikings. For you and others to say little progress has been made is not accurate.
Again, I understand the nature of timelines and the difficulty they present capital projects. Deadlines can be missed for all sorts of justifiable reasons. One of the reasons, again, I pushed for renderings is because I think the fanbase has a right to see the work that has been done. And I think moving forward we have a reasonable expectation to be as in the loop as possible during this process. That should include an open conversation about timelines and goals. Coach Smith clearly has a goal in his mind of when shovels should first enter the ground. From MinnPost.com on Tuesday:
"My hope is by next fall or next spring, there's a hole in the ground somewhere," Smith said.
I'm sure Maturi and everyone else at the U that is working on this project shares similar goals. Everyone wants this facility built. But when designs are changing, timelines aren't discussed and Web sites are altered, it can only make one wonder, fair or not, exactly how much progress has actually being made.