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'Vacancy' Sign Still Flashing for Byrd Stadium Suites

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On Saturday, Byrd Stadium will host its first football game since the completion of a $50.8 million expansion project that created 64 luxury suites and 440 mezzanine seats in Tyser Tower, on the stadium's south rim. The enhancement plan, initiated four years ago, set out to create revenue-generating amenities and refurbish a facility in its sixth decade of existence. Video by Atkinson & Co.

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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009

On Saturday, Byrd Stadium will host its first football game since the completion of a $50.8 million expansion project that created 64 luxury suites and 440 mezzanine seats in Tyser Tower, on the stadium's south rim. The enhancement plan, initiated four years ago, set out to create revenue-generating amenities and refurbish a facility in its sixth decade of existence.

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But the original vision for that plan will not be fully realized when Maryland takes the field against James Madison. For a number of reasons, the central of which was a recessed economy, school officials were able to secure long-term commitments for only two-thirds of the luxury suites and mezzanine seats.

Initial sales on the stadium's new premium seating options will not spawn the revenue Maryland once anticipated, though school officials insist the renovated Tyser Tower will produce enough funds to pay off the project's annual debt requirement: $2.4 million annually over the next 20 years.

"When we structured the financial plan for this, the original idea was that the suite rentals were paying the debt service annually on the facility, along with the money we got from the naming rights to the field, and that what would be gravy would be all the sales of the mezzanine seats," Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow said. "But the way it is now because of the recession, it's really a good thing that we built out the mezzanine seats because now those funds, instead of coming back as extra money, as gravy, will now be used to make the debt service payments so we stay whole."

Long-term leases have been signed on 41 suites, according to Brian Ullmann, Maryland's senior associate athletic director for external operations. That tally falls seven short of the number needed to pay off the annual debt requirement.

Three lease agreements were signed by groups connected to the school, according to documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. The School of Public Health and the College of Chemical and Life Sciences signed separate contracts and partnered to share a luxury suite. The University System of Maryland Foundation also is leasing a suite.

"The colleges are their own entities with their own budgets and their own fundraising, and those colleges wanted to use the suites for cultivation and stewardship of their donors and their supporters of that college," Ullmann said. "They bought a suite for the same reason that Under Armour wanted a suite. They wanted to entertain people and do those types of friend and fundraising types of activities in the suite."

Ullmann said the university has sold 357 of the stadium's 539 total mezzanine seats, which are situated below the luxury suites and offer heated and covered seating, plus food service.

Chevy Chase Bank agreed to a $20 million field naming rights deal in August 2006. Maryland announced Tuesday that Capital One, a credit card company that acquired Chevy Chase Bank in December, will assume the field naming rights.

The impetus to commence the Byrd Stadium renovations originated in part, Yow said, from the desire of Coach Ralph Friedgen to complete expansion plans that began with enhancements to the Gossett Team House, which sits at the east end of the field and serves as the football team's training and academic facility.

But Yow said she also heard from boosters who believed Maryland's football program should offer the premium amenities available at most other ACC stadiums. In 2005, Maryland, Wake Forest, Duke and North Carolina were the only ACC programs without luxury suites in their football stadiums.

While the demand for premium seating inside Byrd Stadium may have been high initially, a severe downturn in the economy quickly suffocated discretionary spending. "Not right now" became a common response to Maryland's efforts to sell the deluxe inventory, Ullmann said.


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