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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sun Dome rehab gets nod from Board of Governors



TALLAHASSEE – A $35 million makeover of the University of South Florida’s Sun Dome got the go-ahead from the Board of Governors today.

The approval, however, comes with strings: The university’s foundation must set aside $20 million – a quarter of its investment pool-- as a back-up guarantee for the $26 million loan financing most of the project.

If USF comes up with a report showing that it doesn’t need to set aside that much money for the loan, the board can opt to reduce the amount.

Board members came up with that proposal after expressing concerns that USF’s proposal to use a combination of revenue streams – from concessions and ticket sales to parking and naming rights – would not be enough to cover the debt payments.

In addition, though USF hired an outside firm to assist with revenue projections it did not sign on a third-party financial adviser to review the project, something that the board’s rules require.

“You have to understand, you’re asking us to do something we’ve never done before,” board member Charles Edwards told USF officials.

USF officials say the Sun Dome does not comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and couldn’t stay open and functioning in its current state.

“It is at the point where there have been some ADA issues to the point where it’s been registered in Washington DC,” said USF president Judy Genshaft. “It is our largest venue … It is important we move on this. And we’re ready to move very quickly on this.”

The Sun Dome has been home to USF's basketball programs and many concerts and community events for 30 years. Transforming the facility is expected to attract new events and eventually triple the arena's annual revenues.

The plan is to finish construction to be ready for the December graduation ceremony.

Board of governors member Tico Perez, who voted against the project, said he felt like USF had rushed the proposal.

“I understand the timing is tight, but that’s not our fault,” he said.

The Sun Dome has had net operating losses for the last three years, including $418,500 in 2008-2009 and $91,500 last year.

USF had already expected the foundation would need to step up for the first few years given the revenue projections. But officials had not anticipated setting aside $20 million.

The $80 million in USF foundation’s pool is also helping guarantee debts for the USF St. Pete Student Center under construction and the proposed USF Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, a high-tech training center.

Foundation board members would have to hold an emergency meeting and approve that proposal before construction could begin.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 12:12pm]


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