published Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

UTC could face higher fees to use Finley Stadium

Merrill Eckstein is executive director of Finley Stadium and Davenport Field.
Merrill Eckstein is executive director of Finley Stadium and Davenport Field.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
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With Finley Stadium no longer scheduled to receive $60,000 annually from the city, Stadium Corp. board members said Tuesday that the time has come to revisit their financial agreement with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

For the past four football seasons, UTC has paid the Stadium Corp. $10,000 per home game.

“It’s a very workable situation, but there is a tension within the needs of the stadium and the needs of the athletic department,” Stadium Corp. chairman Bryan Patten said. “Our joint purpose is to give fans a great experience and for fans come in increasing numbers, but when we sit down and talk to the athletic department about sharing in some of these greater costs that come with greater crowds, there is going to be some push back.”

Finley Stadium executive director Merrill Eckstein, who was awarded a three-year extension at $90,000 annually during the meeting, is projecting a surplus of $19,965 for the 2011 fiscal year that ends next week. His initial budget for 2012, which does not contain any funding from the city, projects a loss of $36,300.

Board member Ryan Crimmins said the University of Memphis pays $120,000 a game to play at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, which seats 62,000.

“I know that’s the Liberty Bowl, but we need to pro-rate this a little better,” Crimmins said. “We need to go back to the university. The market dictates what we have to charge.”

UTC athletic director Rick Hart was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting.

Board member Mike Davis oversees Finley Stadium’s long-range planning projects and brought his list from the February meeting that had $100,000 approved for capital improvements. That list was quickly usurped when Eckstein mentioned that sand shifting underneath the turf in certain parts of Davenport Field has caused dips.

There was a shift in the sand in 2009, which resulted in the turf having to be cut open and repairs being made at $54,000. Eckstein estimated repairs this time around at $50,000, which would come out of the Friends of Finley fund that contains $171,000 following a recent drive that amassed $100,000.

The turf must be fixed between the last Chattanooga FC soccer match on July 23 and UTC’s football practice on Aug. 11.

Eckstein’s extension and slight raise passed by a vote of 5-1. The lone dissenter was Davis, who “strongly” objected to reading about Eckstein’s new agreement in Tuesday’s Times Free Press.

“This is about the fourth or fifth time I’ve read in the paper what the board is about to approve,” Davis said. “My ‘no’ vote is no reflection on Merrill but the process.”

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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Stewwie said...

[“We need to go back to the university. The market dictates what we have to charge.”]

Good luck on trying not to price yourself out of the market, Mr. Crimmins. If the board members insist of being greedy, then maybe UTC ought to begin looking to play elsewhere i.e. back on campus. If the Mocs leave Finley, that stadium won't survive and the board knows it.

It was a mistake to ever build Finley. It hardly makes any money. It was built too big. There's not enough decent parking, especially if the stadium ever filled from Saturday to Saturday. It's not on campus which almost makes it feel like the Mocs play 11 road games a year.

June 22, 2011 at 10:20 p.m.
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