Baylor University will begin seeking donations to build a new $17 million alumni events center next to the on-campus football stadium already under construction, the school’s board of regents announced Friday.
Regents also allocated $2.5 million toward site preparation, a feasibility study and architectural renderings for the proposed 40,000-square-foot facility, which university officials expect to serve as a game-day gathering place for alumni. It is to replace the current Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center and will be built next to the stadium on the opposite bank of the Brazos River from where the alumni center sits today.
The decision was an
nounced ahead of a mediation scheduled Monday between Baylor, the Baylor Alumni Association, and BAA member Kurt H. Dorr, a Chicago banker who successfully obtained an injunction halting the planned demolition of the Hughes-Dillard building.
Baylor planned to knock down the Hughes-Dillard building this month ahead of work to transform the area into grassy plaza leading to a pedestrian bridge that will connect the campus to the stadium. The alumni center has served as the BAA’s headquarters since 1978, according to the organization’s website.
J.D. Pauerstein, a San Antonio attorney representing the BAA, said the move toward exploring a new alumni events center bodes positively in the upcoming talks on whether Baylor will be able to proceed with tearing down the Hughes-Dillard building.
“It sounds constructive,” Pauerstein said. “I would certainly think (it helps the conversation). It seems like something that ought to come up.”
The restraining order delaying the razing of the Hughes-Dillard building is to be continued until further notice, or when an agreement is reached between the parties in mediation, Pauerstein said.
But Waco attorney John Mabry, one of five lawyers for Dorr, said the new alumni center plans should have no bearing on resolving the dispute. Dorr is seeking to delay the demolition until Sept. 7, the day the BAA’s full membership is to decide whether to approve a proposed agreement that would dissolve the independent organization and transfer alumni outreach to Baylor.
“If the university wants to build some sort of alumni gathering place next to the stadium, that could be a good thing, presumably, for the university and the alumni,” Mabry said. “It still doesn’t have anything to do with our efforts to save the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center.”
Babs Baugh, a member of BAA’s executive committee, said she would hope for a swift resolution for the differences between the organization and the university, which BAA leaders have described as contentious over the past decade. However, she does not think the proposed alumni events center is a sign that Baylor wishes to work alongside the alumni association in the future.
“That sounds like something they’re building for themselves,” Baugh said. “They have to house (alumni functions) somewhere, if they go along with this transition proposal.”
Brian Nicholson, associate vice president of facility, planning and construction, said the new alumni center was first envisioned in 2011 when the university began seriously discussing the possibility of an on-campus stadium. However, he said the facility was scrapped by the time regents approved construction in July 2012 to lower costs for the $250 million project.
The board of regents began discussing reinstating the project this spring because of the higher-than-expected public support for the stadium, said Ken Hall, Baylor’s senior vice president for university development and strategic planning.
Hall denied that the decision to revive the plans for the center was connected to the demolition plans for the Hughes-Dillard building or the pending mediation.
“Totally separate issue,” Hall said. “This has been planned for from the beginning, and we’ve been in fundraising at Baylor for a long time.
“We want a place where all of the alums of Baylor University can gather and feel proud of what is called their alumni center.”
Baylor on Wednesday announced that it had sold out of seating tied to capital gifts — 1,108 club seats, six founder suites, 36 premium suites and 79 loge boxes — far ahead of the stadium’s scheduled opening for the 2014 football season. In addition, Baylor has surpassed its $130 million mark in total fundraising goal for the project, Hall said.
Nicholson said the alumni building would not be ready for the 2014 football season and likely will not open until 2015. Preliminary design plans propose an at least three-story, 40,000-square-foot glass-facade building with a rooftop terrace that would be built near the ending point of the pedestrian bridge across the Brazos River that would connect to Baylor’s campus.
A 1994 contract governing the use of the Hughes-Dillard building allows Baylor to reclaim the property if the university had a need for the site, no alternative location existed, and if it provided another building of comparable “size, condition, quality of construction and location.” Dorr’s petition for the restraining order challenges whether the university met those terms before making plans to tear down the alumni center.
The BAA’s staff was relocated from the Hughes-Dillard Center on June 28 and moved to administrative offices in Baylor’s Clifton Robinson tower. BAA President Collin Cox previously said Baylor had revealed plans for a new alumni building that would be built in the future to accommodate its staff.
Nicholson would not say whether office space would be included in the alumni events center.
Cox in an email declined to comment for this story, citing a busy travel schedule. He said in a July 10 federal court hearing over the restraining order that Baylor officials said the new alumni center was expected to be constructed regardless of the outcome of the Sept. 7 vote on the transition agreement.
Dorr, who said he’s a lifetime member of the alumni association, also charged in his petition to the court that the decision to tear down the building stemmed from a proposed agreement that would see Baylor take over BAA’s alumni outreach duties except for publishing the Baylor Line magazine, which would continue under a new Baylor Line Corp. group the university would license if the arrangement was approved.
The agreement was approved in May by the BAA’s executive committee, pending the Sept. 7 vote by the association’s full membership.
Nicholson has said delaying the Hughes-Dillard razing would not affect completion of the stadium or the pedestrian bridge in time for the 2014 football season.
However, he said Baylor could incur as much as $300,000 in overtime costs to remain on the current schedule to complete the plaza so as not to interfere with the peak visitor’s season at Mayborn Museum Complex, which neighbors the alumni center.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr., who is also a Baylor alum and BAA member, ordered the parties into mediation to resolve the dispute during the July 10 hearing.
“I think both sides want what’s in the best interest of the university, and we just have differing opinions on how and what that means,” Mabry said.
In other business
Baylor University students will see tuition rates climb by 5.85 percent for the 2014-2015 school year.
The university’s board of regents voted to set undergraduate tuition at $17,240 per semester for next school year, or $34,480 annually, according to a Baylor press release. A similar increase will be enacted for graduate programs.
The undergraduate tuition rate for the upcoming school year is $16,287 per semester.
The regents also raised student fees by 7.12 percent to $1,820 per semester for the 2014-2015 school year, compared to the $1,699 semester fees for the upcoming fall semester.
In other action, the regents allocated $2 million for more design work on the planned $100 million facility for the Hankamer School of Business. The university expects to break ground on the 275,000-square-foot building, which is to be built on Bagby Avenue between South Third and Fourth streets, by December.
The center will be named the Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation. Foster, who began his first term on the board of regents this month, gave a $35 million lead gift in June support upcoming talks on whether Baylor will be able to proceed with tearing down the Hughes-Dillard building.