Monday, September 26, 2011

Another Day At The MSF

“Rumors abound that Harbin Field will eventually be turned into a real stadium, to be used by such teams as soccer, football and lacrosse. If this is the case, it will be a major boost for campus ... The university should do all that it can to provide better accommodations; after all, having sports on campus for all to enjoy follows the Jesuit ideal of educating the whole person - mind and body. We already have the teams ... now let's live up to our reputation and give them the facilities they deserve."—The HOYA, 2000

Day 2,200 for Phase 2 of the Multi-Sport Field (nee Facility) was much like the previous 2,199: nothing to see here.

For those who have forgotten (and there are too many), “the most significant project in the history of Georgetown Athletics” sits idly by, waiting for one of its various designs (there have been at least six, perhaps more) to rise from the sand and gravel that was laid down on a temporary basis in 2005 to accommodate the home season while construction would begin soon thereafter.

Except it didn’t.

It was to wait for the Southwest Quadrangle to be built. And it waits.

It was to wait for the Davis Arts Center to be finished. And it waits.

It was to be built in conjunction with the Hariri Business Building to be completed. And it waits.

It would surely be completed before the Science Building, right? And it waits.

Now, the 11-year project could be moved further back in the line as plans for a basketball training facility, the Intercollegiate Athletics Center, have come to the forefront. No one denies the need and the urgency for that project, not just for basketball but for all Georgetown sports, but now is not the time to put away the MSF plans for another five years and wait for the next capital project to come along and push it aside again. And frankly, it’s time for football and lacrosse supporters to speak up.

When proposed in 2000, the MSF (yet another utilitarian name for a campus that still has a 30 year temporary title for Village A) was priced at $22 million, not an insubstantial sum for what was a 4,600 seat field. (By contrast, Stony Brook got an 8,000 seat, $22 million stadium that looked like this ).

What Georgetown was really getting with the MSF was the ability to move offices out of McDonough in the absence of a training facility at the time, and when the price increased, more functionality was envisioned, from skyboxes to locker rooms.

In 2004, a number of factors intervened. Public fundraising stopped on the project, with reports of up to $12 million raised. A field was approved by the board of directors, but running electrical and plumbing lines to the business school took priority. Forty yards of fence was added with only half the 4,600 seat total in rented, temporary seats for the Brown game, but that was about it. A series of lights (mostly for team and intramural practice and less for game conditions) and a low-cost replacement to years of  problems with a similarly low-tech scoreboard are the only changes to the area since the field debuted (and construction stopped) 2200 days ago on Sep. 17, 2005.

As time went on, athletic director Bernard Muir sold a phased approach to building the MSF, but made no outward progress, and left before the inaction caused any damage to his professional reputation. Dan Porterfield took over as interim director (a two month assignment that lasted over a year) and promoted a lower-cost alternative to get the project back in gear, but it too stalled. In his 17 months as athletic director, Lee Reed has not made any public statements as to its timeline.

Who or when is not important, the time has long since passed for finger pointing. The time has come to recommit to this project, without delaying or damaging the IAC fundraising, and work towards a suitable and sustainable model to build a permanent facility within the next three years—not in 2020, not in 2030. This project has been approved, zoned and vetted across the campus and community bureaucracy for years. It was variously waited for smaller donors, for larger donors, for naming donors, for design studies, for architecture reviews...only to see its core constituents, the students themselves, lose faith in the coaches and University that once told them, “By the time you are a senior you’ll be playing in a new stadium.” Nearly a quarter of the living alumni of Georgetown football have been told this. None have seen it happen.

With the IAC assuming many of the locker, training, and facilities needs originally envisioned under the MSF circa 2000, what does this project really need?

  • Permanent seating and/or standing room for 5,000, ideally within a design that is aesthetically and architecturally consistent with that part of campus.
  • A workable press box
  • A contemporary scoreboard
  • Some minimum amount of game day space for players, coaches and officials
  • Replacement turf (after six years, the ten-year lifespan of the MSF surface is likely to wear out soon given its continuous use)
  • Fencing and landscaping around the entire complex, not one side of it.
  • Permanent concession and rest room areas, a source of derision in the lacrosse community this past season:
    “I went to the G-Town/Nova game Saturday night. As we approached the stadium from the parking garage, I had in mind...posts about the lack of funding for the Georgetown program. I commented out loud that the stadium and field looked awesome, with huge buildings surrounding the stadium. Initially, I could not see any evidence to support the criticism from the Hoya alumni and fans. Then I noticed the chain link fencing, the construction gravel, the wooden ramp and the poorly constructed bleachers. I also saw tents, which I thought are probably used for the home and visiting teams. However, my biggest shock came upon observing the porta-johns. Then I began to understand and respect the frustration of the Gtown alumni. The final blow came at halftime. While the Hoyas players were playing their hearts out against my former team, I saw four of those Georgetown players in full uniform, waiting in line with me to use ......the porta-johns. I could only imagine a scenario more embarrassing for the players in the middle of a hard fought game. I, and other Nova fans simply stepped aside and allowed the players to go in front of us, as we collectively shook our heads. Loyalty to Nova does not in any way prevent support for the Georgetown lacrosse program. The Big East Lacrosse benefits when all teams are competitive. I have seen Villanova's Athletic Director and staff support the lax program and the benefits are clear. There is simply no reason the Georgetown AD should allow such an unacceptable situation to exist on its campus. It not only makes the program look bad, it makes the school look bad." –
Even with inflation, this is not a $22 million project. Saint Louis built a 6,000 seat soccer stadium for $5.1 million. Denver built a 2,000 seat lacrosse stadium for $6 million. Arlotta Stadium was build for the Notre Dame lacrosse program for for $5 million in 2008 and was completed in 15 months. If Georgetown had a copy of Arlotta Stadium, students and fans would do backflips.
It’s not enough to delay the MSF yet again because Georgetown can only build one project at a time. This would be an ideal opportunity to leverage the construction resources that will be needed at the IAC and get the MSF (ideally with a new name) up and running. Raise the money in 2012, start building by the fall of  2013, even if it means moving late season football games on the road. Move lacrosse up to North Kehoe for the spring, and open it in time for the 2014 season opener, the 50th anniversary season for modern Georgetown football. Short of joining the Big East for football, and that’s not happening, no single effort would do more to engage and energize the football and lacrosse community than a recommitment to a permanent home for these sports on the Hilltop.

Name it after a donor. Name it for Dave Urick, or Frank Rienzo, or even Al Blozis. Name it for a sponsor if they care to contribute. No matter the name, the mere presence of a facility that, as the front page reminds us, is a home, a home that befits Georgetown. No one expects Jerry World on the edge of the Southwest Quad, but a reasonable place to watch a game, to enjoy a concert, or simply to spend a relaxing spring day watching teams practice. The present eyesore accomplishes none of this, and the institutional inertia surrounding this project can only be a distraction as the IAC fundraising heats up.

If this reads like I’ve made this argument before, well, I did. Below is an excerpt from a 1998 article:

What is needed, therefore, is an adequate and expandable facility that could serve many needs--football, lacrosse, soccer, concerts, even commencement. Such a project would be a tangible commitment to maintaining green space at the Hilltop, a project that the University community could look upon with pride--just like any homeowner would. But if Georgetown builds it, will they come? First, they've got to know it's [coming].”
This is the time to recommit to a football and lacrosse facility for Georgetown University.