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The Virginian-Pilot(Norfolk, VA.)

 

By Harry Minium

The General Assembly will not require Old Dominion to build a new football stadium entirely with private funds after all.

A provision of the Virginia Senate budget that would have required ODU to fund a stadium privately was dropped from the budget adopted last week by the Senate and House of Delegates.

Sen. Kenny Alexander, a Norfolk Democrat and an ODU graduate, said the language was excised from the budget because of bipartisan lobbying from Hampton Roads senators. After he learned of the provision in mid-February, Alexander said he enlisted aid from Republicans John Cosgrove of Chesapeake and Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach.

Alexander said it isn't known who authored the wording in the ODU budget amendment. "But John Cosgrove and Frank Wagner recognized that this was unfair and unprecedented," Alexander said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has until Sunday to sign, amend or veto the budget. Prominent Democrats have urged him to sign the budget, but to use his line-item veto to strike provisions of the budget dealing with Medicaid expansion, an issue that led to a three-month budget impasse.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Norfolk Democrat, said no public university in Virginia has ever been required to build a stadium or arena solely with private funds. He said regardless of what McAuliffe does, ODU likely won't be required to, either.

"There were a number of universities that were concerned about this provision," Alexander said. "This would have set a bad precedent."

ODU's problems began when the university asked the General Assembly for permission to spend up to $1.5 million to hire a consultant to determine how large a stadium to build and how to deal with issues such as traffic and parking. No taxpayer money would be used for the study, ODU officials said.

The school has proposed building a stadium with about 30,000 seats to replace 77-year-old Foreman Field, which has deteriorated too much to be expanded.

The Senate budget amendment recommended approving the request, but on the condition that a stadium be constructed with private money.

ODU has said it plans to build the stadium with a combination of private funding, new stadium revenues and athletic revenues, including existing student fees. James Madison University used a similar funding formula in its recent stadium expansion.

Virginia does not allow state universities to use taxpayer money to build athletic facilities.

ODU's stadium effort has been held up for three months by the budget impasse. Once a budget is approved, ODU can hire a stadium consultant.

David Harnage, ODU's chief operating officer, has said it will take about 90 days to hire the consultant and about six months for the consultant to complete the study.

Harry Minium, 757-446-2371, harry.minium@pilotonline.com

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