The Florida Gators’ new baseball stadium — a standalone facility located in the southwest portion of the University of Florida campus that will replace centrally located but aging McKethan Stadium — is now set to cost $65 million, with construction beginning in February 2019 and set to be completed in the summer of 2020 in advance of the 2021 season, the program announced Thursday.
That new figure represents $15 million in additional costs, and the new dates suggest a timeline being pushed back a year. Both changes are acknowledged, with some careful diction, by athletic director Scott Stricklin in Florida’s release.
“This is an exciting day for Gators Baseball and our entire athletic department,” Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said. “While our original hope was to have the ballpark available at the beginning of 2020, and therefore available for play that season, this period of rising construction prices has required additional time to finalize the design, and has caused us to adjust our timeline by a few months.
”You get one chance to build these types of facilities … facilities that will change the landscape of a program for generations to come. It’s exciting to think of the impact the new ballpark will have on future Gators players, coaches and fans.”
Florida originally announced its plans for the new baseball stadium as part of a March 2018 announcement of “Phase II and III” of its three-stage “Facilities Master Plan.” “Phase I” of that plan included the 2015 installation of a new indoor practice facility for football, a $25 million expansion of Florida’s facilities for academic support for athletes, and a sweeping overhaul of the multipurpose Stephen C. O’Connell that was completed in 2016.
Phase II, a full-scale renovation of the Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium that is home to Florida’s softball team and the construction of this new baseball stadium, and Phase III, a standalone football complex set to be erected on the site currently occupied by McKethan Stadium, were more closely tied to each other, with Phase III obviously necessitating the teardown of McKethan after or during the completion of Phase II.
And when those plans were announced, the estimate attached to the baseball stadium was $50 million, with construction projected to begin in “the fall of 2018” and a goal of completion prior to the 2020 season.
Nine months later, and with no construction yet underway, that plan has obviously changed — which is a familiar refrain for Florida’s capital improvements in recent years. The Gators’ initial plans for an indoor practice facility were revised after the arrival of — and, uh, spirited input from — football coach Jim McElwain, and the renovation of the O’Connell Center was notoriously plagued by delays and rising costs.
The renovation of Pressly Stadium has also cost significantly more than expected, with the estimated cost rising from $11 million in Florida’s March release to $15 million in Thursday’s announcement. (That $4 million bump on the original $11 million estimate is also a larger increase by percentage than the $15 million bump on an original $50 million estimate, though a small seven-figure increase is easier to swallow than an eight-figure overrun.)
But as Stricklin notes, these plans are likely to set the foundation for Florida’s baseball and softball programs for decades to come, and it is hard to argue that those national championship-winning programs don’t deserve significant capital investments.
And it is even harder to argue against Florida’s football program needing some sort of update to its outdated facilities, which are below the standards for luxury and utility being set by the preeminent programs in college football, so shifting the completion goal for that facility back from 2020 to 2021 is a blow.
So it is probably in Florida’s best interest to suck it up, pony up, and get these projects done as soon as possible, rather than waiting for the cheapest price possible.
And it certainly should be in the interests of deep-pocketed donors to find some charity in their hearts for the Gators, given what remains to be committed for these projects:
Funding for Phases I-III of the UAA Facility Master Plan, which total $285 million, includes a target of $155 million in private support. To date, Gator Boosters, Inc. has received nearly $86 million in private gift commitments, marking progress at 55 percent of the necessary philanthropic support for these phases.
”To date we have raised more than 50 percent of our fundraising goal,” said Gator Boosters Inc. Executive Director Phil Pharr. “We are fortunate that Gator Nation shares in our vision of delivering a championship experience. We are appreciative of their investment into the future of Gator Athletics and the individual life-changing opportunities our student-athletes have available to them in Gainesville.
”We are experiencing tremendous momentum and know we can count on Gator Nation to step up once again and help make the investments necessary to continue providing a championship experience with integrity.”
Notably, the new renderings of Florida’s baseball stadium published alongside this release do not feature significant signage on the edifice of the stadium, only a large FLORIDA in the program’s standard italicized font and a hard-to-read FLORIDA BALL PARK over the main grandstand.
One imagines that putting YOUR NAME HERE on those renderings would have been tacky — but the message is clear.