Monday, November 27, 2023

Zable Stadium’s new luxury boxes partially funded by student fees

The new grandstand includes luxury suites, a press level, and premium seats for donors. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily.)

William and Mary’s Walter J. Zable Stadium opened its doors Sunday for a public preview intended to showcase the extensive renovation project that was completed this summer.

According to a public statement from the college, the renovation was funded entirely by private donations, but documents reviewed by WYDaily showed student funding was used to finance some of the renovation.

The renovation has added an upper deck, expanded seating, and 10 luxury suites for members of the Tribe Club and other elite donors.

The renovation to the 81-year-old stadium cost an estimated $27 million, and both William and Mary’s website and a private audit claimed that the project had been funded entirely by private donations.

“We’re lucky to have people that want to support us,” Spencer Milne, the Assistant Athletics Director of Marketing, Promotions, and Ticketing Services said while giving a WYDaily reporter a tour of the stadium.

However, a list of donations provided to WYDaily by University Communications only included $24.5 million in gifted funds, which left approximately $2.5 million in funding for the project unaccounted for.

The college’s website lists tuition and fees for the 2016-17 school year, which includes a breakdown of all fees owed by students per semester. Students owe a total of $560.50 in facility fees for the fall semester — $18 of which is specifically earmarked for Zable Stadium. The Zable Stadium fee was not present in the prior year’s tuition and fees.

Last week, when interviewed for this story, Senior Assistant Athletic Director Pete Clawson told WYDaily that all of the funding for the stadium renovation came from private donors.

On Tuesday, when asked to explain the Zable fee listed on William and Mary’s website, Clawson said in an email, “The university is using debt (supported by student fees) to fund the balance of the project cost until such time as additional private funds are raised. Once private funds are raised, the student fee will be eliminated for this project.”

With an undergraduate population of 6,301 students, the twice-annual $18 Zable fee can raise up to $226,836 for the stadium per year.

Even while the Zable fee was publicly posted on William and Mary’s website, the college continued to claim that the project was being exclusively funded by donors.  “It’s entirely privately funded and debt free,” said Milne at Sunday’s open house.

The new Luxury Boxes at Zable Stadium. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily.)
The new luxury boxes at Zable Stadium. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily.)

“The College has publicly stated that the project costs will be paid for entirely out of non-state funds,” said Eric Sandridge, Director of Higher Education Programs at Virginia’s Auditor of Public Accounts, which audited William and Mary’s Intercollegiate Athletics Program for the 2014-15 school year. “Tuition and fee payments are considered state funds, whereas gifts would be considered non-state funds.”

For some students, it came as news that they would be expected to shoulder some of the renovation costs.

“We as students deserve to know,” said sophomore Kara Brads. “Even if its $36 [per year] we deserve to be notified.”

The project predominantly overhauled the western side of the stadium, which will house the luxury boxes and preferential seating for alumni donors amid the new Smith-McGlothlin Grandstand.

The student section sits directly across from the Smith-McGlothlin Grandstand. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily.)

“Before the renovation, the whole stadium looked like the stands over there,” said Milne, in reference to the student section behind the visitor’s sideline.  The student section still features the backless bleachers seen in Zable before the renovation.

Milne says he looks forward to the renovated stadium hosting game day events tailored for students, such as pyrotechnics, live music and Griffin bobble-head giveaways, and hopes to “make the game atmosphere top-notch.”

The William and Mary website reports that seating capacity will remain approximately the same, and that renovations to the student side include new and improved bathrooms and concessions.

“I thought last year it was accommodating enough,” Brads said of the stadium. “It doesn’t surprise me, but if we’re paying, we deserve to see some benefit.”

Other students were less concerned with the additional fee and largely unimproved student section.

“$36 isn’t that upsetting to me,” said senior Miriam Kreykes, who looks forward to seeing the upgrades to the western side of the stadium and the types of people it will attract. “Those are the kinds of people you want there.”

Student Christy van de Kamp said she was excited to experience the games from the student section.

“If you’re a big donor, you want the big box,” she said. “If you’re a student, you want to be down close to the action.”

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to include an additional statement from Pete Clawson, given during a phone interview regarding this story. The second paragraph was changed to reflect company editorial policy. The links initially included in the story, relating to W&M’s public statement on the renovation funding, have been updated to cached links, as the content on the original link included has been changed since WYDaily’s story was published. 

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