President speaks on final stadium report

The UNA student section roars in excitement as the Lions earn the first victory of the season against the Western Illinois Leathernecks at Braly Stadium on August 29, 2019. 

The University of North Alabama’s University Stadium Workgroup (USW) formulated a final report for the potential new stadium July 29. The report was based on questions provided by UNA President Kenneth Kitts.  

Kitts established the USW in response to Student Government Association’s (SGA) survey released last fall, which concluded that 1262 out of 1778 students wanted to pursue an on-campus, multi-use football stadium. After the positive results from students, Kitts came up with some questions to explore based on SGA’s resolution for USW.  

“I was delighted to receive (the USW’s report),” Kitts said. “This is obviously a very important topic for the university and I found the report to be very well done, very thorough, balanced and insightful.”

During the progression of the report, Kitts was actively engaged with the USW’s eight members. Whenever any of the members needed information from the university, Kitts provided them with it. Athletics Director Mark Linder, who was a non-voting member and served as a resource to the workgroup, kept Kitts up-to-date on the work group’s progress.

The report considers all possibilities. While it does explore the option of staying with Florence City Schools’ Braly Stadium, it also looks into the university having its own facility. The new stadium is estimated to cost between $25 to $30 million dollars and will be in need of outside sources of funding.

“I think that if we had sufficient funding we would have developed a stadium of our own a long time ago,” Kitts said.

“We’re going to have to take a long hard look at possible sources of funding. Both funding that we currently have here, but also funding we might have to think creatively about – you know, external funding, private funding.”

 During the fall of 2018, two workgroup members, Grant Gunn and Chase Holcombe conducted presentations to key student groups, including Fraternity and Sorority Life organizations, the SGA and the LaGrange Society. 70 percent of almost 300 individuals who attended the presentations indicated they were comfortable with a $12 per credit hour stadium fee, while 73 percent said they were comfortable with a $10 per credit hour stadium fee and 86 percent said they were comfortable with an $8 per credit hour fee. 

“It’s that important to the students that they are willing to be a part of this effort financially, while I completely respect that, I don’t want us to look at student funds in the first instance as a primary source of funding because it could be a financial burden on the students,” Kitts said. “I understand that it all depends on the amount. If it’s a fee of modest amount then it might be manageable, but let’s not start there. I hear the students and my take away there is not just dollars and cents, it’s they really care about a stadium.”

Instead of relying on students, Kitts said he is trying very hard to get UNA equity funding from the state. He plans to use the extra money from the state for the university’s academic programs and to renovate some of the older buildings on campus.

“The new dollars coming in from the state are not going to go to a stadium because I don’t want to sacrifice what we have on campus,” Kitts said. “We have needs right here on campus and that’s why I keep coming back to we need extra help.”

Kitts said he thinks that the most likely funding source is in the community.

“I think we just started scratching the surface to see what interests might be out there,” Kitts said. “It doesn’t always have to be just one person who’s writing the check, it could be a corporation. Right now, we’re just on the front end of those discussions to say, ‘This might be something good for more than one party, let’s talk about it.’”

Kitts said exploring a potential new stadium is not indicative of anything negative about Florence City Schools or Braly Stadium.

“It’s a very good school system, but it gets crowded there sometimes,” Kitts said. “I think from the vantage point of the school district, I could see that they would appreciate having their own stadium.”

Although many students are pushing for the stadium to be on-campus, there were four other potential locations the USW discussed, including the ECM property, the Foundry near North Alabama Medical Center, some land in West Florence and TVA property.

Timothy Morgan, USW workgroup chairman, said he would like to see an on-campus stadium.

“I can agree that if I were still a student, it would have been nice to have a stadium somewhere on campus,” Morgan said. “The others, like the land on the west side, have some very nice property, but they are just not on campus.”

Morgan saw that with the ECM property, the parking would be difficult and the surrounding neighborhoods would not like it. With the TVA land located across the river, Morgan acknowledged that its distance may provide challenges.

These locations were never meant to be an exhaustive list, but have been looked at for a while by others in the community.

“I think now we’re just starting with a clean slate,” Kitts said. “A nice stadium with better parking, think, would increase in our attendance. What would that do for our Florence economy? What would that do for the Shoals economy? And then, once you start having those conversations, okay, who might be interested in helping us? We need help and I’m absolutely okay with saying that. We need help from outside the university to make that happen.”

Before making any vital decision, the university leaders want to ensure that they include everyone in the process of securing funding, selecting a location and debating possible uses.

Kitts said he is OK with taking this process one step at a time even though it might be a lot slower than anyone would like it.

“You have to get it right,” Kitts said. “You have to bring people along with you. I do sense there’s a lot of excitement out there right now. The university is emerging, maturing, and spreading its wings in a way that good and maybe even a little overdue.”

Kitts said he likes the size of UNA, but that does not mean the university cannot dream a little bit, grow a little bit and do things differently.