LSU has spent the past two decades catching up to its Southeastern Conference brethren in a facilities arms race that has swept through college athletics.
The improvements are sprinkled throughout campus: renovations to the exterior of Tiger Stadium, the new Alex Box Stadium, a separate gymnastics facility, a practice gym for basketball and a new indoor tennis building.
The university is not slowing down, said Rick Perry, president and chief operating officer of the Tiger Athletic Foundation, the private, nonprofit fundraising arm for athletics that oversees these facilities projects.
“I think we’ve made great strides in a lot of areas over the last few years. We had fallen behind,” Perry said in an interview last week. “With tough times in the state in the 1980s, overall it had fallen behind. Back in the 60s and 70s, we were right there with anyone, but it did start to lag behind. The last 20 years, we’ve been really catching up in a lot of areas.”
The catching up continues for the three major sports.
Work has already started on a $23 million construction project to the football operations center that will include an expanded and renovated locker room, training areas, coaches’ offices and the addition of a nutrition center.
After baseball season, Alex Box Stadium will get a baseball-only weight room and a plaza to celebrate the program’s many SEC championships, which will encompass the long-awaited statue of former coach Skip Bertman.
In basketball, officials are conducting a study of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center with hopes of renovating a 45-year-old arena that administrators acknowledge is behind others in the conference. It’s next on the to-do list and something that’s been in the works since at least last spring, when university leaders discussed potential changes for the first time.
The PMAC could see the addition of club level seating, possibly even suites, and an expansive entrance lobby, administrators said in May. Perry suggested the potential for an LSU athletics hall of fame among other possible changes.
“They’re getting ready to do a study of the facility and the possibilities going forward,” Perry said. “Are there some things that can be done to make it a better fan experience? You’re looking at college basketball across the country and those are the changes.
“Very few schools have premium (basketball) seating except for some floor seats. Are there opportunities to put some club (seating) experiences there? Not only that but something where there’s a better entrance to it, where you’re not outside. You can actually come into some type of (lobby) area,” Perry continued. “You can have opportunities to do recognition for basketball or even all sports. Can you incorporate a more formal hall of fame for (LSU) athletics? Can you put a sports shop? Multiple things you can look at.”
Athletic director Joe Alleva told a crowd in May at a Tiger Tour stop that he would like to raze the two ramps that front the facility, replacing them, potentially, with escalators and constructing a “nice lobby.” Alleva said then he’d like to add a club area to the arena.
For weeks, Will Wade has been reluctant to talk about the LSU basketball team’s postseason chances beyond the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Officials discussed then the possibility of decreasing the 13,215 capacity venue to add premium areas to the second level of seating at the PMAC. Those seated in premium levels are allowed to purchase alcohol, and normally those patrons have access to their own bathroom facilities and concessions.
The premium seating wave is sweeping through college sports, a way to increase attendance during a time when the internet and television provide so many options to watch a game.
“It’s all about the game-day experience, making it as comfortable as you can for people to come,” Perry said. “With everything on television, you’ve got to make it where people want to leave their homes and be a part of it.”
A fan attending the LSU basketball tip-off luncheon on Monday at L'Auberge Casino Hotel asked coach Will Wade whether there were plans to make improvements to the PMAC, with the fan noting he saw ceiling tiles peeling away.
“We’ve talked about some improvements," Wade said. "There’s a feasibility study going on right now about what to do with the Maravich Assembly Center, what to do with some other property that we have on campus — to look at obviously redoing the Assembly Center or doing something totally different.
"That’s going to be a couple years down the road," he said. "We’ve got some more immediate needs of trying to fix in terms of a weight room and some office space and some different spaces like that that we’re trying to fix that’ll help our staff, help our team, help our players. We’ve had discussions about all of that."
Other projects are further along than potential PMAC renovations. The university last month announced plans for a 14,500-square foot softball performance center, and the program’s outdoor tennis courts are being re-purposed for beach volleyball.
As for baseball, the weight room and a new SEC championship plaza are scheduled for construction after this season ends, Perry said. The weight room and a small locker room will occupy an already existing area in the team’s indoor hitting facility down the right field line of Alex Box. The area is now being used as storage. A separate storage facility will be added at a later date. The locker room is meant for professional players who return to Baton Rouge in the offseason, Perry said.
A plaza recognizing LSU’s SEC championship teams, regular season and tournament, is to be constructed on the north side of the stadium across from the ticket office. It will incorporate the statue of Bertman, which Perry says is in the final stages of design.
“They’re not necessarily looking at another round one (like the national championship plaza),” Perry said. “It would be more of a rectangle, with some walls leading up to an area at the end with a statue of Skip and a history of Alex Box Stadium and something about Skip’s career at LSU.”
Fundraising for the weight-room project is nearly complete, and officials are beginning to raise money for the SEC title plaza, Perry said. He declined to reveal costs of each until after the construction bidding process.
The university released three renderings last week of the upgrades to the football operations building. A nutrition center will have the facility expanded on the north side, toward Skip Bertman Drive, swallowing part of what is now a parking lot. Renovations to the training room, locker room and players’ lounge will expand the facility toward the west side but will not interfere with the four practice fields, Perry said.
Scott Rabalais and Sheldon Mickles contributed to this report.
Below is a full Q&A with Perry.
As you know, Congress in December approved a tax rewrite that eliminates a tax reduction on donations made to a university with the purchase of tickets. LSU AD Joe Alleva described the passage as potentially “disastrous” to a university that relies so much on ticket-producing revenue, fearing season ticket holders won’t renew. How does this affect you, your job, TAF?
Note: LSU season ticket holders must make a donation when buying priority tickets. For instance, a single LSU football season ticket might cost $425 but in order to purchase that ticket, a donation of $450 must be made, making the total price of the ticket about $875. Season ticket holders could write off 80 percent of that donation fee under the previous tax plan.
Every year we send out notices to people asking generally, ‘Do you plan on renewing your seats or not?’ Just to get an idea. We’ve actually had less people tell us this year that they don’t plan on renewing their seats than in past years.
Another interesting phenomenon is we had a lot more people who paid early this year than in the past. I’ve told some people this before: Everybody is going to have to go through one or two tax cycles to see how it personally affects them or their business. You’ve got a tremendous cut now in the corporate tax rate. You’re going to see a lot of people with a reduction in their personal income tax. You’ve got a doubling of the standard deduction. A lot of people who did itemize or corporations who are paying a much higher tax … there’s a trade off there. It may be, ‘Now we’ve got this much more money that we didn’t have before. Yeah, we’re not going to get the deduction for the donation we were getting before, but the fact is we’re trading off one for the other.’
This year, you’re basing it on last year. The deductions this year won’t affect them until next year when they pay their taxes. They’re still paying on last year. Right now, you’re doing your 2017 taxes. They won’t go through this cycle with what’s happening now until they do their ’18 taxes. It will be one or two years until people see what the effect is.
Just talking to a bunch of people, that’s exactly what they say. ‘We want to see how it affects us.’ But if you look at the change in the corporate rate, it’s a big change. It does leave a lot more money available for corporations, and the goals are to have that money going to expansion of corporations but it also gives them the opportunity to continue doing the charitable giving because they’re not going to pay as much in federal taxes.
If it seemed like all LSU's teams did this weekend was win, it wasn't your imagination. The baseball, softball, basketball and gymnastics team…
Dinner in a suite overlooking Tiger Stadium’s football field was cool.
So you mentioned a lot of people renewed and paid for their tickets before the end of the year to get the reduction on their 2017 taxes?
We’ve always allowed our donors, if they wanted to pay or had a reason to pay before the end of the year, to do it. You get people who had certain financial events that take place in a year. Could be anything from I’m getting ready to retire or maybe I sold my business this year, had a windfall this year. It made sense for them to go ahead and do another deduction in a single year, to double up. We’ve done that forever. More people took advantage of it this year knowing that the change was coming.
Any idea on the number of early renewals?
It was up about 200 percent from last year. The deadline this year for renewals is March 31. March 31 is the donations to us and the Tradition Fund. The actual cost of the tickets comes later. The idea is to make sure those people who do donate have donated and they get the notification to actually buy the tickets (over the summer).
How do you get this information we’re talking about to your season ticket holders?
We’ve sent some stuff out to our members to let them know what’s going on. The fact is some of the stuff is still evolving too. They’re still working on things. We’ll continue to try to educate people and let them know. It’s also a situation where you’re talking about taxes and things like that so they really need to consult when their own individual tax expert to figure out because it’s different for everyone. There’s no set thing you can tell someone so everybody needs to look at it and how it personally affects them.
Where do you feel like LSU’s facilities are in general when stacking it up against other SEC programs?
I think we’ve made great strides in a lot of areas over the last few years. We had fallen behind. With tough times in the state in the 1980s, overall it had fallen behind. Back in the 60s and 70s, we were right there with anyone, but it did start to lag behind. The last 20 years, we’ve been really catching up in a lot of areas. You look at the upgrades to the football stadium. Over the years what happens is people tend to … it’s kind of like you don’t see paint chipping on your house and you look up and it’s like, ‘Whoa!’
I think that’s kind of what happened here (with the Tiger Stadium dorms). I remember one of my first meetings with Joe Alleva … he walked me out there and we had the old air conditioning units in the old north stadium dormitories and old windows rusting. We walked out there and it was funny, the timing. As he looks at me and says, ‘Look how bad that looks. That’s the first thing people see when they come here.’ Just then, this group of girls walks past and looks up there and one of them goes, ‘Look how ugly that is!’
He kind of looked at me and said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this.’ We started the campaign with the windows, which was highly successful. From that, we started looking at, ‘Hey, we’ve got one of the storied programs in America and have no recognition.’ Then we came up with the program with the plaques and all. That was a great way to get people who not only put up the recognition but at the same time, we’re able to generate additional revenue to go into fixing the stadium even more.
One of the sports where we really had fallen way behind, we were able to, with the expansion of the (Tiger Stadium) south end zone, to go ahead and do something for gymnastics, to do something for tennis and provide them with a facility. They were basically the only school in the conference that did not have an indoor facility. The problems that caused, not only in them being able to practice, but in the recruiting process. You’re that far behind.
When you look overall – and the upgrades we’ve been able to make for track and field, the softball field and new Alex Box – now we have for the most part moved forward and upgraded the vast majority of our sports facilities. And now they’re getting ready to break ground on beach volleyball. There’s been a lot of moves. Now it’s kind of to the point where you’re looking at, we did some things but it’s been 10-11 years, you’ve got to go back and look at them again. That’s where we are with football ops and adding the nutrition center as a part of that puzzle.
The time constraints on our student athletes – practices, training, class and everything – are so great, giving them facilities where they can be a lot more efficient. D-D (Breaux) will tell you… originally they had one of each apparatus to practice on, the kids were standing around. Now, with multiple apparatuses, they’re constantly practicing. Their practices can be much shorter. Everybody can get their work in much quicker, which gives them more time to study, more time to do the other things they need to do.
Same things with the (impending) baseball weight room. Football has been wonderful in sharing theirs over the years with several of our sports, but this will make not only football easier for them, but it will also make it easier for baseball to get their workouts in a timely manner. Those are all parts of the puzzle to aid them and give them the chance to be as efficient as they possibly can.
This is a 12-part daily series counting down the days until LSU football begins spring practice on March 11.
Where do you feel like the PMAC compares to other SEC basketball facilities?
It’s been said, but they’re getting ready to do a study of the facility and the possibilities going forward. Great improvement on the back with the basketball practice faculties. Not only did that help with basketball but it also helped free time for gymnastics, free up time for volleyball, who also used the building and make it easier on everyone. But I think the whole building itself in looking at it … Are there some things that can be done to make it a better fan experience? You’re looking at college basketball across the county and that’s the changes.
Very few schools have premium (basketball) seating except from some floor seats. Are there opportunities to put some club (seating) experiences there? Not only that but something where there’s a better entrance to it, where you’re not outside. You can actually come into some type of (lobby) area. You can have opportunities to do recognition for basketball or even all sports. Can you incorporate a more formal hall of fame for (LSU) athletics? Can you put a sports shop? Multiple things you can look at.
If they do anything, of course, we would probably explore something as far as offices (for TAF, which remain in the PMAC).
So they’re going to do a study. They’re very good at saying, ‘Let’s go look and see (if) this makes sense business wise, what can we do and what’s feasible engineering wise.’
In the summer, LSU administrators indicated the potential to demolish or change areas inside the arena to create premium seating. The premium seating seems to be a trend in college athletics. That’s only going to continue right?
It’s all about the game day experience, making it as comfortable as you can for people to come. With everything on television, you’ve got to make it where people want to leave their homes and be a part of it. That’s the big change, making it a much better experience for people. One of the other interesting things you’re seeing now… you look at the design of buildings, you’re not seeing oval or round buildings anymore because of the fact everybody is building these buildings that are either rectangles or squares so that if you ever want to do an addition it’s much easier to do it and more functional.
You’re seeing a total change in design of how people are doing things. Even baseball parks... they are going to be round in the outfield, but the facilities itself are more square or boxed because it gives you options down the road.
The circular PMAC design makes it more difficult to revamp?
It does make it… it is what it is. That’s where you get creative design people to look at it and look at what we can do to enhance it.
There are two projects coming to LSU baseball: the SEC championships plaza and the weight room right?
The weight room will not only be a weight room. There will be a small locker room in there for MLB players. Coach (Paul) Mainieri really loves having the guys come back in the offseason. A lot of them do come back to Baton Rouge and live in Baton Rouge in the offseason. It’s great to have those guys around our players, not only to teach them about what it takes to get to the next level but also the historically perspective of what it’s like to be an LSU player and what it takes to be a champion a the collegiate level. It will be a small area where they can keep their equipment and all, change and work out.
The plaza … we’ve got great recognition over there for a lot of our players, got the champions plaza out front that recognizes all of our national championship teams, but what we don’t have right now is any recognition for our SEC championship teams, whether it be regular season or tournament. The idea is the plaza will incorporate that but also incorporate a statue for Skip (Bertman). You know, maybe the greatest baseball coach, many would argue, in the history of college baseball. Very deserving. The location of it is north of the current champions plaza, almost across from the ticket office on that (north) side. There’s a grass area right there where there was a large tree that died. That area is open now.
So you’ll have the two (plazas) in close proximity of each other so it will be real easy for people to go visit.
There are a lot of SEC championships in baseball. How do you make that work, design wise, in such a small space?
The good news is it gives us a lot of inventory of people who want to do plaques to support the program. You know how passionate our baseball fans are. It gives us a lot of opportunities to get people to help and be part of it, help fund the program.
Will it be modeled after the national title plaza? Do you have renderings?
They haven’t finished the renderings yet. Still working on it, but it won’t be … what they’re looking at, because of the nature of it, is they’re not necessarily looking at another round one, because as you said, there are a lot more plaques. It would be more of a rectangle with some walls leading up to an area at the end with a statue of Skip and a history of Alex Box Stadium and something about Skip’s career at LSU.
How do they go about creating a statue, like the one of Skip, and where are they in the process?
They’ll take pictures the athletic department has. They sit down with the family and they say, ‘Hey, could you come up with a few that are your preference?’ Then they’ll do sketches. Artists will do sketches. And then the family will actually determine – they’ve get several options – this is the one.
They have already looked at the drawings and etchings and all. I don’t know if the family made a final decision but I know they narrowed it down and had some ideas of what they’d like to see.
So the baseball weight room will be attached to the current indoor hitting facility?
You know the big area next to it that’s been used for storage, mostly for storage, looking out on the left-hand side? They’re going to go in and take that area, redo that, gut it and the weight room and locker room will be in there.
They’re then going to expand and do storage. It’s a lot cheaper to build additional storage when you already have the facility.
Any other things on the horizon facilities wise?
Not really. One of the things (the athletic department) is telling us is, ‘Let’s look at different things.’ Well, this is one of the ones that popped up, this building (PMAC). We said, ‘Let’s start studying because as soon as we’re finished with the others one, if that’s the direction y’all want to go, we need to jump in right away because it’s probably going to be a pretty expensive project and take a while.’
It gives us time to plan and put together the campaign on how we’re going to do it. Everything from what materials you have available and if you’re going to come up with something special (in a donation campaign).
Have funds been raised for the baseball projects?
We’re just about finished, reached real close to finishing our goal, a couple more gifts we’re trying to finalize for the weight room and locker room. We’ve started on the (fundraising) for the plaza.
The weight room we’ve got drawings and everything and they’ve got through the planning and development to get everything Paul wants in there but we haven’t bid the project yet. Project will go out to bid shortly. We’ve done enough projects that we have an idea of construction costs. You can get pretty close to what you think you’re going to need. Based on where we think we need to be construction wise, we’re really close to that number if not at it already. One of the things we’ve done with our construction projects is our goal has been to raise 10 percent more than our construction cost. That money is invested and that way we’ll have a long-term maintenance fund. It’s a way of making sure that in 10 years, if we need to fix something or do something, our donor’s investment is taken care of.