BOISE -- Boise State reversed course Thursday with an announcement that the university will no longer be a part of the Boise Sports Park proposed for downtown.
Instead, the university is looking into building a collegiate baseball stadium on or near campus, officials say.
Boise State President Bob Kustra said in a release that the decision came down to using public money in the most efficient way. Ultimately, the university determined the long-term lease necessitated by a downtown stadium would be "less financially prudent" than a project Boise State could undertake on their own.
“As a baseball fan, I support efforts that boost baseball in Boise and give our community a chance to enjoy the sport for years to come,” Kustra said. “I wish the Hawks and the City of Boise the best in moving forward. But my primary responsibility as university president is to make the best choices for the future of Boise State.”
The reversal comes exactly one week after university officials, including Boise State Athletic Director Curt Apsey, signaled their support of the stadium project.
But the school noted then that no decision had been finalized. Boise State elected to pull out of the stadium this week, and alerted city officials of their decision.
“We are in the middle of the hiring process for our baseball head coach, and an on-campus stadium will be a major selling point - both to the individual we ultimately hire, and to the future student-athletes that will be recruited to Boise State,” Apsey said.
The stadium project has drawn intense debate over the last several weeks. But at a Tuesday briefing, the City of Boise announced that more than three-quarters of people who had weighed in at open houses and via an online feedback system were in support of the project.
City leaders expressed disappointment in the decision Thursday.
"Boise State would have been a natural tenant for the Boise Sports Park, so we are disappointed to hear that Agon Sports and Entertainment and Boise State were not able to reach an agreement," Mayor Dave Bieter said in a statement. "However, our independent analysis shows that the Boise Sports Park could be highly successful without Boise State as a tenant. We are excited by the continued interest of the Boise School District and the other possible users of the sports park and will move ahead with the process to ensure that the project is a good fit for its neighbors and for the city has a whole. We wish Boise State baseball and women’s soccer a successful future."
Boise State's baseball and women's soccer teams would have paid rent to play at the proposed stadium alongside the Boise Hawks and a new professional men's United States Soccer League (USL) team.
So with BSU out, we wanted to find out how the stadium's bottom line will be impacted.
According to their marketing campaign, city officials feel Boise need a new sports park for several reasons, one being that "Boise State University needs a new home for Division I baseball and women's soccer".
But on Thursday, the city told KTVB that the university's involvement isn't key.
"There's plenty of demand for events that would happen here. So we feel very confident that the days Boise State might have taken for any baseball or soccer games that those will be easy to fill by other folks who want to be part of this," City of Boise spokesman Mike Journee said. "It would have been great to have Bronco Nation baseball and Bronco Nation soccer there. It would have been really fun and important. But at the end of the day we knew it wasn't important to the success of the ultimate stadium."
KTVB obtained a stadium licensing agreement letter of intent that Agon Sports & Entertainment sent to Boise State University officials in July. The proposal stated BSU would be granted a seven-year lease with three one-year extensions for their new Division I baseball team and women's soccer program. The document stated BSU would pay $400,000 per year to lease the new stadium.
Bear with us, as this is a bit convoluted: That $400,000 annual sub-lease would have been paid to Agon Sports, the operator of the stadium. Based on the current funding proposal, Agon Sports is required to pay $1 million in sub-lease payments each year to the City of Boise. That money that would have been half of the city's $2 million annual lease payment that would go toward Capital City Development Corporation (CCDC) in order to pay off the 20-year bond CCDC is expected to secure in order to pay for upfront construction costs.
The letter of intent also stated a capital requirement of $500,000 is involved "in anticipation of a 1,200 sq ft BSU locker room with an additional 1,000 sq ft of dedicated office, storage, and wet areas. This Capital Requirement is an estimate and will be charged to BSU as part of base construction of the venue."
The 'Terms & Fees' section also laid out that the university would pay $25,000 per year for the same lease length for operating costs to practice and play some games at Memorial Stadium.
"As the operator of the stadium, it is up to Agon in order to operate the stadium in a way that those lease payments do come back," Journee added. "It is a responsibility upon them as the operator to make that lease payment."
City officials and Agon Sports told KTVB on Thursday they can cover their lease and debt service with other events like high school games, sports tournaments, festivals and concerts.
"Without Boise State in the calendar now there's other opportunities for folks to come in and be part of that too," Journee added.
Based on a feasibility study commissioned by the city, the stadium's operating margin would decrease from 15 percent in the first year (2020) with Boise State's involvement to 13 percent without their involvement. By the stadium's fifth year of operation - the 'stabilized year' of 2024 - the operating margin would decrease from a project 10-percent to 8-percent.
"It wasn't gonna be a huge portion of the operating revenue," Journee added. "Attendance at college baseball games is somewhere between 6-to-800 - something like that - on average. So we weren't expecting a sellout crowd for every home game for Boise State."
The hotly-debated stadium debacle came up at a Greater Boise Auditorium District (GBAD) meeting on Thursday, where one group in opposition and one group in support presented their sides to the board. GBAD is expected to have a stake in footing the bill: the city has said they're expected to pitch $5 million for upfront costs of construction to build the stadium, but GBAD has not yet been presented a proposal.
"Couple hours ago, I hear BSU has changed their mind about using the project," Concerned Boise Taxpayers, the group in opposition, Co-Chair Gary Michael said to the GBAD board. "It just shows you the high risk of this project in the revenue."
Bill Taylor, who was representing a group in support of the Boise Sports Park, Better Boise Coalition, says the stadium will be successful because it would have diverse uses, and professional soccer and baseball will generate revenue in order for Agon to pay back their annual leases.
"The fact that BSU is pulling out, they were not in the original discussion to begin with in regards to the stadium. And the feasibility study shows even with BSU being out of the mix that the profit margin is still - on a conservative side - 8 percent. So they still meet their marks because the Boise State utilization was the smallest component of utilization," Taylor told the GBAD board.
However, stadium supporters have been touting Boise State's potential involvement for quite some time.
"I think the fact that maybe - in my opinion - they've misused that information, maybe made BSU say we don't want to be a part of this. We'll do our own thing," Concerned Boise Taxpayers Co-Chair Bill Ilett told KTVB, "Plus the economics: I think Boise State can probably go on campus; they've got ground, build a little 2,000-seat baseball park for under $1 million and it's theirs. They've got a great soccer facility already, so why would they spend $500,000 a year for the next 20 years? That's poor use, again, of public funds."
A big unknown currently: If Boise State University plans to build a baseball stadium, where would it go?
Historically, BSU leaders have talked about possibly playing at Memorial Stadium. KTVB reached out to university officials for an interview on Thursday, but they declined, saying their statement stands.