UNA reveals designs for new multi-use stadium, two locations stand out

(Top) Entrance to the stadium. (Bottom) Visitor’s side view of the entrance from inside the stadium. 

Editor-in-Chief Harley Duncan

The University of North Alabama revealed possible designs, locations and funding requirements for a new multi-use stadium, which would include UNA football and women’s soccer games, concerts and potential graduation ceremonies.

Mark Linder, UNA’s athletic director, said the estimated cost for the stadium is “very rough”, and once all the feedback is collected, the university would ask for an updated estimate.

Chase Holcombe, president of the student government association, said the new stadium would seat less people than Braly Stadium, which currently holds around 14, 215 people, according to una.edu. He said the new stadium would seat around 10-12 thousand people in its design.

Holcombe added that it is a national trend for colleges to cut the amount of seating in stadiums to emphasize and increase the “fan experience”. He said Auburn University recently removed seating from Jordan-Hare Stadium, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s future stadium will hold less people than Legion Field.

The city of Florence and UNA currently share Braly Stadium for sporting events, but it is owned by the Florence school district. UNA only leases the stadium for football games.

“You wouldn’t spend a lot of time painting the walls or fixing up a place that you are renting,” Holcombe said. “We can’t have any purple or gold. We can’t have UNA type of stuff in Braly just because it is a shared venue.”

Pictures provided in the forum showed that the stadium would be shaped as a horseshoe with seating that connects the home and away side stands around one end zone. The other end zone would feature a plaza area that is designated for fans to hang out, eat and watch the game.

The university has made maps for the new stadium that show it could be built off Pine Street on UNA’s campus, where Mike D. Lane field and the Pride of Dixie marching band’s practice field are currently located, or it could be built at the former Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital property off Alabama Street in West Florence.

The city of Florence approved to give UNA a piece of land off Cox Creek Parkway April 2 to relocate Mike D. Lane field. Holcombe stressed that the decision to move the baseball field started two years ago and the most recent land acquisition was not connected to the possible new stadium.

According to UNA documents, it would take 12-16 months to relocate Mike D. Lane field, and it would take 26-28 months to finish a multi-purpose stadium.

“There isn’t much time for overlap with the projects,” Holcombe said.

Linder said if the Pine Street location is selected for the new stadium, the marching band would either practice on the turf field next to Flowers Hall or on the university’s intramural field. He said Lloyd Jones, UNA’s band director, is aware that the marching band may have to relocate.

Holcombe said more parking is available near the intramural field, which he added that most of the band members are parking anyways.

“I know for example we have College View Church of Christ up there beside this view (Pine Street location) as well, and I know we have spoken in several groups; regardless of where we put it, we are going to be mindful of different stakeholders just because it would affect traffic flows and different things like that,” Holcombe said.

Linder said Michelle Eubanks, who holds a seat on the Florence city council in District 4, brought the ECM property to UNA’s attention.

She is also a member of the workgroup UNA created for the new stadium.

“She just asked if we had considered that, and we said ‘Well, no but we can certainly see if it could fit there,’” Linder said.

Rev. Christopher Reeves said he would not mind offering for Greater St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church to be a meeting place for the public to attend and discuss an off-campus location that would affect the Florence community.

He said it is important to understand how the new stadium could affect the community that will see the greatest impact.

“We are trying to look at all possible locations so that when we are collecting feedback, we are not necessarily pigeon-holing anyone into one possible location or nothing,” Holcombe said.

Jason Stevens, a resident of the neighborhood next to the property on Alabama Street, said he thinks it would be more beneficial for the university to build the stadium on Pine Street.

“Quite frankly, I would rather it not be over here,” Steven said. “That’s awfully close to our neighborhood.”

Other residents of the area said noise pollution, light pollution, trash, traffic, parking and loss of property value could be concerns for them.

President Kenneth Kitts told the stadium workgroup not to factor state allocated dollars into the funding mechanism for the stadium. Kitts said the university does not want to jeopardize Project 208’s success, which is his project to secure more state allocated money for the university.

Holcombe said the two primary avenues of funding for the stadium would be through private donors, a $8-$12 per credit hour student fee or a combination of both options. He added that the university would issue a 30-year floating bond as well.

“If we were to have zero private gifts, zero private donations and the cost were to fall 100% onto the students, we could fund a stadium with the $8-$12 fee,” Holcombe said. “If a large donor gave a significant amount, that number could go down.”

He said the workgroup used West Texas University as a model for the idea of a student fee.

Joseph Isom, a UNA student, asked if merchandise and concession sales could be an alternative to fund the stadium.

Linder said concession sales do not generate as much money as people think they do. He said after he visited Auburn, he learned that only 1% of their concession sales account for its budget.

As for security, Linder said the university would still work with Florence city police and UNA police on game days. He added that good lighting would be a top priority to increase the safety around the stadium.

“As always, we take the safety of our students and the community seriously,” Linder said.

Holcombe said if any student or community member would like to contact him about design, location or funding, email him at [email protected] or call him at 256-366-7801.