Wyatt Henderson, the chairman of the Coastal Carolina University board of trustees, said Friday it’s important he and the trustees set an example as they ask supporters of the school to contribute to the stalled Brooks Stadium expansion project.
Henderson said he and his wife Stacy have pledged at least $25,000, and that he has other trustees on board to pledge donations once the football stadium project moves forward and final plans can be completed by the architects.
That remains the hang-up, though, as university leaders see it.
The South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, which voted 9-4 against the project earlier this month, has made it clear it will not grant necessary state approval until it sees more upfront private money involved in the funding plan.
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And Henderson, in turn, reiterated the university’s belief that funding for these projects becomes easier to pinpoint as plans move further along and naming rights opportunities come into clearer focus.
“While we’re asking [supporters] to donate and to give of their money, we’re also going to set the example,” Henderson told The Sun News. “So I’ve got several trustees that are stepping up and are prepared to make a donation whenever we know what the design is going to look like. I’ve got several trustees that are willing to step up and make donations of $25,000, $50,000, [or more]. We’re all signing pledges; we just don’t know what we’re going to name at this point. …
“If you walk around campus you’ll see current trustees and former trustees who have given sizable donations in the past, and they’re waiting in the wings excited about [the Brooks Stadium expansion]. But without knowing what we’re going to name, that’s the frustrating part.
“This is the model we’ve always used in the past. … The rules have been changed on us so we’re having to play with a new set of rules.”
Henderson was referring to the reconfigured CHE, which has adopted more stringent vetting standards for capital projects with Coastal Carolina becoming something of an example of that new process.
The university has gone before the commission four times since February while lowering its proposed budget for the stadium project from $38 million to $29.9 million before its most recent pitch earlier this month in Columbia.
Just rest assured anyone who knows the resolve of this administration, this board ... rest assured we’re exercising every option we have available and every remedy, whether it be political or whatever. Just know there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes.
Wyatt Henderson, chairman of the CCU board of trustees
Coastal Carolina’s latest plan is to expand the 9,214-seat stadium to around 19,000 seats to satisfy requirements connected with its upcoming move to the Sun Belt Conference and NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision.
A majority of the money needed to make that happen would come from bonds, which the state becomes liable for if a university were not able to repay. In the wake of South Carolina State University’s financial collapse last year, the CHE and new commission chairman Tim Hofferth have been outspoken about refocusing their role in this approval process.
And in its May 5 meeting, the CHE repeatedly questioned why Coastal Carolina couldn’t show more upfront fundraising than the initial $2 million pledge by the Chanticleer Athletic Foundation that was included in the funding proposal (along with annual pledges of $500,000 from the CAF and $200,000 in athletic department revenue for the life of the bonds).
It needs to be reinforced that there’s not one dime of tax money being used in this project.
“We can’t go any further in the process until we get the bonding, and without that money we can not get the final designs done,” Henderson said Friday. “It’s the chicken and egg thing, but just rest assured anyone who knows the resolve of this administration, this board … rest assured we’re exercising every option we have available and every remedy, whether it be political or whatever. Just know there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes.”
Just as university president David DeCenzo declined to delve into such specifics after the board of trustees’ athletics committee spent an hour in closed executive session last Friday, Henderson did not expound on what those other options or remedies might be.
“There’s always political options,” he said. “There’s always trying to get it back to the CHE with the right private donations. We’re looking at every avenue. I think it would be inappropriate to comment on anything else.”
The website CoastalFans.com, meanwhile, launched a petition Wednesday night on Change.org asking for Gov. Nikki Haley to intervene with the CHE. That petition had more than 1,800 online signatures as of Friday afternoon.
It has not been decided yet if the university will take its request back to the CHE in June, but it is clear the project would need a boost in private dollars for it to make sense to bring it back before the commission.
So along with making his own pledge of at least $25,000, Henderson sent out a letter to the rest of the trustees and university administrators, all CAF members and any previous donors to Coastal Carolina athletics asking for their support.
Because of the university’s ongoing $20 million endowment campaign, he said he kept his request to those affiliated with Chanticleer athletics rather than sending the letter out university-wide.
“That’s where you, the stakeholders in CCU need to get involved,” his letter reads. “What would it take to raise $5 million dollars for this cause? Sure we could sit and wait on one wealthy donor to come in and cut us one big check, but realistically, that may not happen in time for us to be ready for the 2018 football season. That’s why I am appealing to everyone. If each of us could commit to some amount over the next ten years, no doubt we could quickly raise $5 million.
“Look at it like this, it would take only 100 stakeholders to commit to contributing $5,000 per year for ten years and we would have the $5 million. Or, if you could contribute more, 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.
“This new football expansion belongs to our local community. The economic impact of an additional 10,000 seats and playing better teams that travel in large numbers is immeasurable. We all need to get involved and get involved now.”
Speaking Friday, Henderson also wanted to reiterate a key point to the university’s plan to fund the project that has been misunderstood by some.
“It needs to be reinforced that there’s not one dime of tax money being used in this project,” he said.
While the Coastal Carolina football program is set to play its first season as a Sun Belt member in 2017 – with the rest of its athletic programs joining the conference on July 1 – it now looks unlikely that a completed Brooks Stadium expansion will be part of the Chants’ debut.
Henderson acknowledged that, while reiterating that the university’s vision remains unchanged.
“You know as well as I do we’re not going to get this thing done in a year so we’re now pressing up against the 2018 season,” Henderson said. “As I told the president the other day, ‘Let’s do this right. Let’s do this methodically.’”