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Knoxville News-Sentinel (Tennessee)


The Neyland Stadium renovation is in a holding pattern as Tennessee continues to evaluate the project's design and scope.

Athletic director Phillip Fulmer said Thursday that he's hopeful construction could begin "within the next year or so, no more than two."

The holdup, Fulmer said, doesn't pertain to finances.

"We're still looking at all the design, all the scope, and just what do we really want to do?" Fulmer said. "What's going to be the best for the next 100 years?

"That's the reason for the delay is, what do we really want to do?"

He added project fundraising is "in a good place."

"Private donations have exceeded $50 million for the stadium project, and we have not gone public yet," Fulmer said.

Turnover since Neyland Stadium approved

UT's Board of Trustees approved plans last November for a two-part stadium renovation set to cost $340 million. Phase I, focusing on the south end, is projected to cost $180 million and will be funded by fundraising campaigns, athletic department revenues, partnerships and debt financing. The project is not slated to use tuition revenue or tax revenue.

USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee reported last November that $50 million in private fundraising had been generated for the project.

Initial plans called for Phase I to be "substantially completed" by August 2020 and for the entire project to be done by the start of the 2021 season, which is the stadium's 100th anniversary.

Fulmer had said at the SEC spring meetings in May that the project was "on track" and "in a good place." Even then, though, it was becoming clear that construction wasn't starting anytime soon.

Much has changed since the board gave its approval.

AD John Currie was ousted from his position on Dec. 1, with Fulmer replacing him. Chancellor Beverly Davenport was fired on May 2. Wayne Davis is the interim chancellor. President Joe DiPietro is retiring. He will be replaced by interim Randy Boyd.

And the board was overhauled and reduced from 27 to 12 members by the UT FOCUS Act, approved earlier this year.

That all came after Currie fired football coach Butch Jones last November. Jeremy Pruitt replaced Jones and overhauled the coaching staff.

Neyland for more than football

Fulmer said one area that's been discussed is developing partnerships for additional revenue-generating opportunities that would mean using Neyland Stadium for more than just home football games. He didn't specify what those partnerships might be, but it could mean using the stadium for events or concerts.

A potential hurdle to using the stadium for those purposes is that UT is a dry campus, although there has been discussion of that perhaps changing to allow alcohol at certain on-campus events.

The Neyland Stadium renovations will affect UT's Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology, which calls South Stadium Hall home.

"I think it is financially prudent and most responsible to delay the start of construction as we allow Audiology and Speech Pathology, currently in South Stadium Hall, to move in an orderly manner," Fulmer said in a news release Thursday. "It also allows us not to have additional expense and time pressures on both the university and athletics.

"We simply need time to study all ideas of scope and design as we seek to maximize the fan experience and our return on investment for the next 100 years of Neyland Stadium."

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November 2, 2018


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