Financing for Tiger Stadium south end zone expansion approved

State officials swiftly approved $75 million in privately-funded borrowing Thursday to expand LSU’s Tiger Stadium.

Members of the State Bond Commission spent less than five minutes on the project, squeezing in time to crack a political joke before sending interim LSU System President William Jenkins on his way.

State Treasurer John Kennedy asked Jenkins if he had any parting words for the commission.

Just “an expression of gratitude,” Jenkins said, before gathering his belongings and heading out of the committee room.

Afterward, Tiger Athletic Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Ron Richard said construction will begin this fall with work wrapping up in time for the 2014 football season.

The improvements focus on the south end zone of Tiger Stadium, where 65 suites over two levels, 3,000 stadium club seats, 1,500 upper deck seats and additional standing room only space will be added.

Richard said the project will increase the stadium’s seating capacity from 92,000 to 100,000.

Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium seats 101,821. Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee seats 102,455.

“LSU’s not interested in the biggest stadium. We’re interested in the best stadium for our fans,” Richard said.

In addition to the $75 million in borrowing, the Tiger Athletic Foundation also secured $25 million in bank loans.

Whether all of that money will be needed is unclear.

“Everything’s approximate right now, because we’re still finishing the design,” said Eddie Nuñez, senior associate athletic director at LSU.

Taxpayers will not be responsible for repaying the borrowing.

Instead, TAF plans to use money from the lease of suites and seat licensing fees on the club seats to eliminate the debt.

The south end zone project will be the third major expansion of Tiger Stadium in the last two decades.

The latest stadium expansion will make Tiger Stadium the third-largest in the Southeastern Conference and the seventh-largest in the country.

The opening of the east upper deck in 2000 added 70 suites and total seating of 11,600. Improvements in 2005 replaced the press box and the 1970s-era west upper deck.

Still, demand for club seats and suites remains high.

Richard said applications have been submitted for all but four of the 65 new suites on the design board. Of the 3,000 planned new club seats, 2,800 applications have been filed, he said.

The initial donation for a suite is $69,000. The initial annual donation for a new stadium club seat is $2,300. The donations exclude season ticket costs.

Richard said a priority point system will be used to award suites and seats. The system is based on monetary donations.

According to TAF’s website, suites and stadium club seats will be assigned beginning in late August.

Nuñez said the upper deck seating addition will involve relocating 1,000 visiting fans from the South Lower Bowl. He said the relocation will open up seats for LSU fans closer to the field.

The construction project also includes better facilities for gymnastics, tennis and track and field.

Nuñez said gymnastics and tennis will get new facilities while track and field will move into renovated space. Currently, he said, track and field athletes lack locker facilities.

Nuñez said the entire project will break ground in October or November with a contractor locating utilities and preparing the site for construction.

“Throughout the construction, we will work around the football seasons and day-to-day traffic to minimize any inconveniences to our fans and the students as they travel to and from classes,” he said.

At the bond commission meeting, the project prompted only one question.

Kennedy jokingly asked if money would be included for a satellite campus in Westwego, a reference to Republican Senate President John Alario’s hometown.

After a few chuckles, the project received approval without any objections.