Editor's note: Today's story is the second in a three-part series examining the potential facilities upgrades the University of Colorado is exploring for Folsom Field. 

Part 1: The plan. A look at the ideas CU officials are considering for stadium renovations. 

Part 2: The process. An examination of what it will take to realize the plans. 

Part 3: The payoff. Breaking down the rewards CU can reap by following through with pricey upgrades. 

University of Colorado Chancellor Phil DiStefano issued a challenge nearly two years ago to fans of the school's athletic department shortly after the members of the Pac-12 Conference chose to share revenue equally.

DiStefano reasoned that since CU is now in a conference that doesn't play favorites in doling out revenues, the athletic departments that would have an advantage in the future would be those that receive the greatest support from alumni and fans in the form of donations and ticket sales. His challenge to fans was simple.

Give money, buy tickets, come to games -- make the difference between mediocrity and excellence.


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That call to action never has been more meaningful than now as the school considers major renovations and new construction in and around Folsom Field and the Coors Events Center.

As it waits for a feasibility study to be completed next month, the school is pondering building a permanent indoor practice facility attached to the football stadium with a track for the track and field programs. It is also considering expansion of the Dal Ward Center to bring the entire athletic department under one roof and create classroom and faculty office space around the stadium where parts of the athletic department are currently housed.

 Fans tour the men’s locker room for basketball when the University of Colorado held a grand opening tour of the  new facility in April of 2011.
Fans tour the men's locker room for basketball when the University of Colorado held a grand opening tour of the new facility in April of 2011. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

It is also considering enclosing the north end of Folsom Field, adding suites, a second level of seats and a new press box on the west side, adding more classroom space and faculty office space in what is now Balch Fieldhouse and possibly adding a club level to the Coors Events Center.

If all of those proposed renovations and construction were done around the football stadium, it is believed it would cost somewhere between $175-$220 million.

The athletic department could potentially provide approximately half that money on its own by financing future Pac-12 television money. Eleven of the Pac-12 schools will begin receiving more than $20 million annually this year from the 12-year, $3 billion media rights deal signed with ESPN and FOX. Utah does not begin receiving a full share for another two years.

CU could use $5 million of that television money each year over the next 20 years to fund $100 million of the proposed renovations and construction, but that would still leave the department at least $75 million short of what it would need to reach the low side of the estimated cost.

"I believe there is a need to upgrade," DiStefano said in an interview with the Camera earlier this year. "I think the issue is how much renovation we do. It has to be based on our ability to raise private money. It has to be based on our ability to increase revenues through ticket sales and concessions and it has to be based on our ability to use a portion of the Pac-12 media money to get it done."

What is clear in all of this is Colorado fans and donors must come through with an unprecedented level of giving to the athletic department if the full-scale project is going to be done any time soon. Short of that, it will be done in pieces over years as money becomes available. That has been the case in recent years with the football locker room renovation, football coaches' offices improvements and new video boards in the stadium.

 

Renovations illustrate commitment

Football coach Jon Embree said he understands it's a massive challenge for the athletic department, the CU Foundation, the school's fundraising arm, and fans, but he believes it's achievable. He said the impact of actually completing the renovations and construction in the next few years would be huge.

"One, I think it shows the commitment that we have," Embree said. "That has kind of been a knock on us when we're recruiting by other schools, 'Oh, they're not supportive of football.' So I think that would show it.

"... I think as college football continues to move in the direction it's moving in, those are the kind of things that you're going to need. You're going to need to show that you can provide for your athlete on and off the field."

Embree said the department is crammed academically with more than 300 student-athletes vying for computer time, tutors and space to study. He said the 21-year-old weight room is not big enough to allow the entire football team to lift together, let alone other student-athletes.

"There are a lot of things that affect the athletes that we could eliminate a lot of the problems with the facility," Embree said.

No one at CU knows better the impact on a program when facilities are improved than men's basketball coach Tad Boyle. He's only in his third year in Boulder, but having grown up in the area, he knows what his predecessors had to work with and how recent improvements at the Coors Events Center helped him win a Pac-12 Tournament title, win a game in the NCAA Tournament last season and attract a top-25 recruiting class.

In the past five years, CU has invested in a $12 million practice facility, a permanent playing surface, flyaway baskets, new coaches' offices, a new weight room, new locker rooms, charter aircraft for away games, video coordinators for both men's and women's teams and coaching salary enhancements.

"To me, it's one thing to be talking about what's going to happen and it's another thing to have it happen," Boyle said. "... To have it done is priceless. It makes all the difference being able to walk a kid and their family through that, and, additionally, it makes a difference for our current student-athletes and their day-to-day lives."

 

Where does the money come from?

CU doesn't have a sugar daddy to foot the bill the way Oklahoma State has T. Boone Pickens or Oregon has Phil Knight. Athletic director Mike Bohn and staffers at the CU Foundation must generate new gifts -- big and small -- to make the project a reality. And if they want to make it happen soon, they must generate a lot of money in a short amount of time.

That has never been done before in the CU athletic department. Even in the late 1980s when a push was underway to build the Dal Ward Center, CU was only able to raise about $9 million of the $14 million needed. A last minute deal was struck with Coors, which donated the remaining $5 million in exchange for the naming rights to the events center indefinitely.

That happened at a time when CU was competing for national titles on the field and excitement around the program was at a high.

There are some indications the athletic department is at least on the right path in fundraising now. Last year, the department raised $11.7 million, which was second only to 2009, a year that was skewed by one $4.3 million donation left to the department in a will.

The athletic department has received less than 10 gifts in its history of $1 million or more. That fact demonstrates that CU has been more successful recently in raising money, but it also shows there is little history of CU supporters giving in large sums.

So how does CU go about raising a record level of funding in a short amount of time to make the project happen sooner rather than later when there is no history of receiving that level of support for athletics in the past?

"Great question and obviously one that we feel a sense of caution about," said CU Foundation president and CEO Rick Lawrence. "We don't want to declare something to be a priority and have the people who are going to give you the money for it not agree with you.

"That is why we're doing this feasibility study, which is kind of a standard way foundations try to gauge what kind of potential there is for any given project."

It would make sense for the school to first approach its most wealthy alumni for help, but CU has had more success raising money from people who didn't attend the school.

CU Foundation spokesman Jeremy Simon said CU has one of the lowest rankings among BCS conference schools when it comes to alumni giving back to the school. Simon said 8 percent of approximately 240,000 living alumni give back to CU. Obviously only a small percentage of that total are giving to athletics.

Simon said last year the Boulder campus raised a total of $45.5 million and about 30 percent of that came from alumni. Simon said about 1 percent came from students, which means CU received 69 percent of its donations last year from people who did not attend the school.

Lawrence said CU can't afford to focus its fundraising efforts on alumni alone, but he said joining the Pac-12 has helped the school reconnect with alumni on the West Coast and playing more often in front of those people should help keep them involved.

 

Help is here

Kurt Gulbrand was hired away from the University of Michigan last fall to help Bohn lead the fundraising charge for athletics.

While at Michigan, Gulbrand helped raise the money to build nine new buildings providing one million square feet of space, including a major project around Michigan Stadium. He helped grow the school's annual fund from $6 million to $37 million and grew the endowment from $19 million to $63 million.

Gulbrand understands the challenge is somewhat different coming from a school like Michigan which receives 27 percent of its budget from the state compared with CU, which receives only 4 percent of its budget from the state.

Gulbrand said they didn't focus solely on alumni at Michigan. He said to raise the kind of money CU needs to renovate Folsom Field and create financially successful athletic department, it must cast a wide net.

"We just literally went out knocked on doors, shared our story and then said, 'Hey, who else can we share our story with?' And they turned over referrals to us. When we continued to share that story, it went viral and people believed in it.

"We were reaching out to people who didn't come to games. They didn't need football tickets. They didn't need basketball tickets. They didn't care. But they could endow scholarships and they could help us with capital projects or get involved at some level. And they would come back for a game or two and we would entertain them."

Gulbrand said CU is not relying on one major gift or waiting on one donor to fund the Folsom Field project.

"We're not going to be a department that is looking after the golden egg all the time," Gulbrand said. "We've got to find a lot of people that can help us."

 

Entire campus benefits

CU officials feel its important to try to increase classroom and faculty office space as part of the project so that it truly serves the entire campus, but the truth is, Folsom Field and the Coors Events Center already do that.

Both facilities host multiple events every year that benefit the entire university and the whole Boulder community. They are the venues in which many CU students receive their degrees. Folsom Field hosts the Bolder Boulder each Memorial Day and the Events Center hosted a visit by President Barack Obama in April.

Renovating and adding to those facilities is an initiative that will serve the school and the community for 50-100 years. CU officials say it's essential to get it right.

"Those facilities, the stadium and the Coors Events Center, are like our front porch," Lawrence said. "That is where people come to visit the university and we need to make sure we put our good foot forward with them."

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