Monday, August 15, 2016

Ready In 2018?

With a new football season comes some new questions, and some old ones too. And a few which never go away.

Such is the lot of a Georgetown fan, where promises are made but which stands the test of time, and not in a good way. This is day 3,885 of the "will they or won't they" game that is Cooper (nee Multi-Sport) Field, of which I've written as much as anyone, about the veritable lack of direction which has left this project as (save the Boathouse), the longest running construction project at the Hilltop since the Healy Building, which wasn't actually finished out for nearly two decades after they started building it.

Since we last visited on the blog, there has been nothing to report on the  project, so much so that the finished product ought to have a giant stone enscription across its facade: quod sumus hoc eritis. Sadly, the lack of movement is endemic of a well-intentioned program that can't seem to make any progress in the sport, much of that self-inflicted.

Maybe I'm being a little jaded here. I'm one of these donors who bought Bob Benson's sales pitch hook-line-and-sinker, sent the check and waited for the goldmine to get going. And while the long-awaited Cooper gift rallied the faithful, this too fell into the "need to know" approach of donor relations, calling to mind the Lake Wobegon grocer who suggested "If you can't find it [here], you can probably get along without it."

Amidst another off-season of vague discontent, a ray of hope flickered across my Twitter feed last week:

Ok, one things jumps out there, and it's not those temporary seats which stand as a sentinel to inertia: DoneInSpring18?

So while it's clear Lee Reed knows a lot I don't about this project, there's a healthy bit of Missouri ("show me") in any claim Georgetown makes about a facility. To wit:

Spring 18 is roughly 15 months away, yet there has been no design dislosed to the public in over a decade. The Cooper gift is likely not to build a design from the Bush administration.

The last appearance by the University on this project in front of the DC version of the Scylla and Charybdis (the Board of Zoning Adjustment and the Old Georgetown Board) was, at least according to its records, 2007. " No objection to revised concept design for Multi-sport facility at the Georgetown University with stadium lights no taller than 80-ft high as shown in supplemental drawings dated 21 September 2007," reads the minutes. "File new submission of working drawings, including dimensions, details and material samples, with permit application for review by the Commission when ready." 

Well, even if they are ready, the BZA has already signed off, we think, writing in 2012 that " The [John Thompson Center]  was approved by the Commission in Z.C. Order No. 07-23 under the 2000-2010 Georgetown University Campus Plan along with the New Science Center and modifications to the already-approved Multi-Sport Facility The approval for all three buildings was extended by Z.C. Order No. 07-23A. Since that time, the University has commenced construction of the New Science Center and the Commission’s orders of approval are now vested."

The next topic: how much is it? The public declaration of the Cooper gift was certainly unclear about the share of the gift to fund the field, and given estimates which variously ranged from $10 million to $45 million on the project, it's hard to guess how much of the gift will go to the field and when. It would be foolish to assume that the $22 million in pledges for MSF is still active or sitting in a bank account somewhere, but at some point a price tag has to be determined to figure out what it'll get. Will it be a Georgetownian version of Robins Stadium, whose $28 million commitment transformed the Richmond campus?  Or will it be more of a Tenney Stadium , the single-sided redo of Marist's Leonidoff Field, with an announced capacity of 5,000 but actual seating for less than 1,800?

But what about the inevitable design changes? The latest campus plan doesn't provide many clues.

" The west edge of the student life corridor would also be enhanced as future investment in Cooper Field would allow for removal of the existing chain-link fencing and creation of a more open and integrated experience," it reads. Investment to bring down a fence? What does that mean? 

One design in the plan envisions a three sided stadium:

But the plan endorses three buildings in close proximity to Cooper, any one of which could impact not only a timeline, but the use of the field itself. Writes the plan:

"A new building South of Regents Hall in the academic core of campus, which would provide approximately 80,000 square feet of academic space with ground floor student life functions supporting the Student Life Corridor concept ;
▪ A new Harbin Tower on the existing Harbin Hall plaza, which would provide approximately 67,000 square feet of academic and administrative space along with double-level ground floor space dedicated to student life functions supporting the Student Life Corridor concept;
▪ A component of the multi-use Reiss redevelopment option, which would accommodate a full replacement of the existing facility’s 136,000 square feet of academic space"

Another design in the plan envisions a rather nondescript one sided stadium:

And still another design (in the same document, no less) has stands on the east side:

Maybe the Cooper gift isn't enough to build the 2007 design. Maybe it's not in the bank right now. Maybe it's as simple as they just don't know. But nothing says "cheap" in sports like a one-sided stadium. Remember that Latin phrase? "Such as we are, you will be."

So putting regulations, design and money for a moment, there is one constant: time.  To build a facility by spring 2018, you have to basically close the field in 2017, yet there is no chatter that Georgetown is about to become a barnstorming team in 2017. A real facility is a 12-15 month effort with an aggressive calendar.

So which is it? I don't know, but I wish Georgetown knew. Maybe they do. Maybe, like a lot of projects, it's on the University taxiway, waiting to be cleared for departure.

It's been there way too long.