Richard Yulman, the namesake of Tulane’s brand new football stadium, took the ceremonial dedication of the facility not only as a time to accept congratulations, but also to set out a challenge.
Standing on the plaza of Yulman Stadium on Friday afternoon, just a day before the Green Wave face Georgia Tech in the stadium’s inaugural game at 3 p.m., the founder and former chairman of Serta Mattresses pledged he was part of a $10 million challenge donation, which if met, would complete the financing of the more than $70-million project.
Yulman pledged $15 million to become the project’s lead donor more than two years ago and urged Tulane supporters to complete the financing before the season’s conclusion on Dec. 6 or the challenge would disappear.
“We still have a ways to go to complete this bold and aggressive campaign,” Yulman said. “$20 million, to be exact, to ensure this project is supported 100 percent by private fundraising. In the last 24 hours, I, along with a few others, have made a $10 million commitment as a challenge grant to bring in the last $10 million we need.
“I have personally increased my gift to the stadium as part of a matching fund. We know that Tulane alumni, parents and friends will rise up to raise the remaining $10 million. The conditions are that it has to be completed by the last game of this season or the challenge is forfeited. It is all or nothing.”
The donation elicited prolonged applause when it was announced and some gasps when the conditions were fully laid out. But the blueprint to pay off Yulman Stadium is now evident, and the future of Tulane’s athletic facility plans lie with it.
Tulane has announced plans to build an athletic village on donated land off of Jefferson Highway, which would house the tennis and track programs, which lost their playing surfaces when Yulman Stadium was erected. The athletic village can also hold additional football facilities as well as intramural fields for the university.
Multiple sources within the athletic department said they are unable to move forward with plans on the athletics village until Yulman Stadium is entirely paid for.
“So many of you have already stepped up to the challenge of this campaign and have set an example through your tremendous generosity,” Yulman said. “I hope all of you consider joining me in bringing this important project across the goal line without one penny of debt to the university.”
Yulman’s announcement served as the exclamation point in the day’s festivities, which included three separate ribbon-cuttings. After Yulman completed his duties, Saints President Dennis Lauscha filled in for Saints owner Tom Benson and his wife Gayle (who were unable to attend because of Tom Benson’s knee operation) in dedicating Benson Field.
The formal ceremonies concluded with a party in the Jill H. and Avram A. Glazer Family Club, which was dedicated to the family who posted the initial $5 million challenge, officially starting the public campaign to build the stadium in 2012.
Once those ribbon-cutting processes completed, a series of breakout ceremonies took place on party decks, walkways, bunker clubs, entrances and every other named entity inside of Tulane’s new stadium.
“We are here because of you,” Tulane Athletic Director Rick Dickson told the overflow crowd.
“You recreated our past, and you redefined our present and ensured our future with what has happened here.”
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu joined in the event as well, extolling the virtues of Tulane’s new home and spinning tales about his youth on Octavia Street parking cars for games at Tulane Stadium. He and many others highlighted the importance Tulane football plays in the landscape and history of New Orleans sports.