Coastal Carolina University’s board of trustees has approved plans to greatly expand Brooks Stadium after an executive session – behind closed doors, public and press not allowed – to discuss a contractual matter related to the stadium. The administration has the go-ahead to move forward, with a stipulation that the cost not exceed $38 million.
Following the Dec. 11 board of trustees meeting, the university released architect renderings showing added upper deck seating on the S.C. 544 side of the stadium. The expansion will more than double the seating capacity to 20,000-plus. The renderings released were in the public domain prior to the Dec. 11 trustees meeting, university counsel Tim Meacham says.
Meacham said the board’s decision to discuss the matter in secret complies with S.C. law which allows executive sessions for contractual matters, which must be specifically identified. But since no contract agreement was discussed in the open session, it is still unclear how the secret action complies with the law.
The Brooks Stadium expansion (current seating totals 9,214) follows CCU moving up to the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision level and becoming a member of the Sun Belt Conference. FBS football teams must maintain an average attendance of 15,000. Coastal football will play another season in the second-tiered Football Championship Subdivision, although the team will not be eligible for the FCS playoffs. In 2017, the Chanticleers will play their first Sun Belt schedule, but will not be eligible for a bowl game following that season.
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The FBS average attendance requirement begs the questions of where are those thousands of additional football watchers and how is CCU going to attract them to Brooks Stadium six or seven weeks during future football seasons. CCU does not have a “Field of Dreams” situation, the idea that if a ballpark is built, the fans will come. It seems obvious that Coastal football will need greatly increased public support to approximately double the number of people in the seats.
CCU President David DeCenzo, other administrators and the trustees undoubtedly understand the need for greater public support. When agreements were announced with Stubbs Muldrow Herin Architects of Mount Pleasant, in partnership with Heery International, DeCenzo said the cost would not be known until a proposed design is completed. At this point the $38 million figure perhaps is a maximum allowable cost for the expansion.
As DeCenzo has explained, the planning, design and contracting process is somewhat complicated, and requires state approval at more than one phase. The cost won’t be known until a contractor says the firm can do the expansion for so-many millions. Whatever design is selected, and whatever it costs, DeCenzo and the trustees need to ensure public understanding of the details of the expansion.
For public understanding, the more that is discussed in open meetings, the better. More than doubling the size of Brooks Stadium is a major project for not only the university but also the larger community. And full support of the community, particularly thousands of football fans, is vital for the future of CCU football.
While the state law on public meetings grants exemptions for specific contractual matters, the law does not require private executive sessions. DeCenzo and the trustees will be in a better position to woo football fans if they do all Brooks Stadium expansion business in open session.