Editorial: Off-campus stadium would be a local burden

Temple should tread lightly if it plans to build a football stadium off campus.

When the football team beat Army 33-14 for its first win of the year at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, Oct. 19, it did so before a Homecoming audience of 25,533, the second-largest drawing of the season. Still, the sea of cherry left vast sections of the stadium’s lower bowl empty, a common sight at the majority of home games.

While  posting the second-lowest average football attendance in the American Athletic Conference while playing in a stadium built for NFL-sized crowds, new rumors of constructing a stadium near Main Campus have gained traction under President Theobald’s administration.

In an interview with the Daily News published on Oct. 12, Theobald said the university would have to begin development soon to finish the project by a theoretical 2019 deadline, when the university’s current contract with the Linc – which mandates that Temple pay $1.5 million per year – ends.

While the prospect of such a landmark building brings students exciting visions of football Saturdays on Main Campus filled with pep-rallies, tailgates  and short walks to the game, the reality is that a new stadium would bring much darker conditions to the already tense state of relations between the community, the university and its students.

First, the question must be raised about where such a stadium would be built. Available land around Temple is scarce.  Theobald has stated previously that the new athletics projects  – including a new stadium – would be built west of campus. If a stadium were to be built there,  construction would most likely interfere with the local community.

At the moment, it is also unclear where tens of thousands of fans will park. The Liacouras Garage has 1,200 spots, a fraction of what will be needed on game days. Moreover, tailgating is central to the collegiate football experience and is typically done in wide-open lots, not multi-level garages.

Third is the question of cost. Assuming the university builds something with a capacity close to 30,000 seats, as other colleges with programs of Temple’s size have done recently, the cost would be in the tens of millions of dollars. In 2009, the University of Akron, which plays in Temple’s former Mid-American Conference, built the 30,000-seat InfoCision Stadium for $61.6 million. The newest stadium in The American, UConn’s Rentschler Field, has a capacity of 40,000 people and was built in 2003 for $91.2 million  – $116 million when adjusted for inflation.

While the Liacouras Center’s success has proven that a sustainable market exists for a sporting and concert arena in North Philadelphia, it is unclear whether the area can financially support a second, larger stadium. According to the trade publication Venues Today, the Liacouras Center’s 16 concerts grossed $3 million and brought in 64,941 fans in 2012. An outdoor football arena in North Philly would be only be able to host a summer concert series, at best, before the weather become would make it inhospitable.

Theobald told the Daily News that any potential stadium would be more than just a football field, saying it would likely include classrooms as well as commercial property and space for community development. While it’s noble that the president has community interests in mind, he must realize that even by reaching out, local residents and political figures are not likely to be receptive to having a football complex so close to their homes.

City Council President Darrell Clarke, whose Fifth District includes Main Campus and the surrounding blocks west of campus, has petitioned to bar students from renting property around campus in the past and has been vocal in his opposition to further expansion by the university.

Theobald has stressed the importance of using Temple’s power and influence to help solve problems in Temple’s surrounding community. However, building any sort of stadium within or near the confines of Main Campus solves only a singular problem for the university. Theobald cannot claim to have the best interests of the North Philadelphia community in mind while simultaneously campaigning to for a project that will be such a burden for area residents.

While it will likely be met with fanfare by students and alumni, any attempt to build such a stadium will most likely result in bitter debates between the university and the community, debates that could spread to both City Council and the courts, leaving an unnecessary black spot on the university’s reputation.

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