While Coastal Carolina University leaders are working to craft a funding plan for the school’s football stadium expansion project that will satisfy the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education (CHE), the Chanticleers’ fan base is trying to do its part as well.
Frustrated that the CHE continues to withhold phase two state approval for the project, most recently denying it with a 9-4 vote last week in Columbia, the website CoastalFans.com has launched a petition to Gov. Nikki Haley that had already garnered more than 1,300 signatures as of Thursday evening.
“We, the undersigned, express our support of Coastal Carolina University’s request for expansion of Brooks Stadium and ask that Governor Nikki Haley intercede on behalf of the University,” the petition states.
Randy Akers, the owner and administrator of CoastalFans.com, posted the petition on Change.org at 9:45 Wednesday night and said it garnered 100 signatures in the first hour while continuing to grow at a strong pace.
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“This all started, I was approached by two alums that had been following the process and like many of us had been fed up that the CHE has declined to approve the expansion of Brooks Stadium,” Akers said. “They asked that with the social media following that CoastalFans has, would I spearhead this? So far the response has been great.”
Coastal Carolina has brought its stadium proposal before the CHE four times since February and recently lowered the budget on the project from $38 million to $29.9 million before the meeting last Thursday.
The planned expansion of the 9,214-seat stadium to around 19,000 seats is part of the Chants’ move to the Sun Belt Conference and to the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision, as FBS schools are required to average 15,000 in attendance per game.
That to me says that there is definitely a fan base that is passionate about Coastal Carolina football [and] Coastal Carolina University in general. ... Coastal Carolina may not have a Phil Knight waiting in the wings to come in and drop $100 million on us, but what we do have is a lot of Coastal fans who, if they can’t give much, they’re going to give what they can.
Randy Akers, owner/administrator of CoastalFans.com
The Chants are set to debut in the Sun Belt in 2017 after playing this next season as an FCS independent.
In regard to paying off the bonds that would fund the project, the university has said $2 million will come from the Chanticleer Athletic Foundation (CAF) upon completion of construction and $5 million can be applied from renovation reserve funds, while the CAF will then contribute $500,000 per year over the life of the bonds with an additional pledge of $200,000 per year from athletic department revenue.
The CHE, in turn, made it clear that it needed to see more upfront private money involved before it would give its approval.
So while the CAF works to solicit donations, the fan base is trying to bring more attention to the cause. So far, Akers is encouraged by the response of more than 1,300 online signatures.
“That to me says that there is definitely a fan base that is passionate about Coastal Carolina football [and] Coastal Carolina University in general,” he said. “The CHE has said their concern is lack of funds, a.k.a. private funds. Coastal Carolina may not have a Phil Knight (the co-founder of Nike and contributor to the University of Oregon) waiting in the wings to come in and drop $100 million on us, but what we do have is a lot of Coastal fans who, if they can’t give much, they’re going to give what they can.”
Meanwhile, Wyatt Henderson, the chairman of the university’s board of trustees, has addressed the fan base as well in a letter that was copied to the CoastalFans.com message board.
“While I am not going to express to you my personal opinion about the politics surrounding this project, I do think it is important that we, as a University, move forward with a determined resolve that we will get this done,” Henderson wrote. “Take my word for it; we will get this done!”
The CHE was restructured in the wake of South Carolina State University’s financial debacle last year, and new chairman Tim Hofferth has stated that the commission has a refocused approach to vetting capital projects – as Coastal Carolina has experienced.
That, in turn, has left many in and around the university frustrated and confused by what the CHE needs to see to approve the project.
While I am not going to express to you my personal opinion about the politics surrounding this project, I do think it is important that we, as a University, move forward with a determined resolve that we will get this done. Take my word for it; we will get this done!
CCU chairman of the board of trustees Wyatt Henderson
“Coastal is not asking for any public funds. We came in at $38 million with $2 million up front and were told that was not good enough,” Akers said. “We slashed the budget by 21 percent still with that $2 million up front and were told that doesn’t pass the smell test. We’ve seen that South Carolina and Clemson have gotten projects approved for $50 million and that to me does not pass the smell test. We’ve come in with good faith and slashed the budget and been told that does not work, but we’ve not been told anything beyond that.
“This petition is really about asking Gov. Nikki Haley to step in and, if not instruct the CHE to approve the project, at the very least give the administration at Coastal Carolina University a clear, concise and written set of guidelines on how to proceed.”
Henderson, meanwhile, was not available for further comment until Friday morning, a university contact said.
But his letter called on supporters of the university to come together and help raise $5 million toward the project while directing potential donors to reach out to the CAF.
“Being a young University only 23 years old, we do not have the luxury of some of the bigger schools that have the billion dollar endowments or thousands and thousands of alumni waiting in line to throw money at anything we want to build before there is even a design,” Henderson continued. “As such, we have always bonded out the necessary funds to construct a project, and then sold naming rights to the project after construction. This model has always worked and we have a very strong track record in acquiring the funds on the ‘back end.’
“However, CHE made it loud and clear at our last presentation that until we can prove that we have the necessary private funding, we will continue to struggle in convincing a majority of Commissioners to vote for our project. That’s where you, the stakeholders in CCU need to get involved. What would it take to raise $5 million for this cause? ... If each of us could commit to some amount over the next ten years, no doubt we could quickly raise $5 million. ...
“I would ask that you join my wife Stacy and me and commit to naming ‘something’ at the new stadium at a donation of $25,000, $50,000 or more.”
The online petition can be viewed at https://www.change.org/p/nikki-haley-petition-in-support-of-coastal-carolina-university-brooks-stadium-expansion?recruiter=539971079&utm_source=share_for_starters&utm_medium=copyLink