Baylor University is clear to resume plans to demolish its Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center after a federal judge on Friday lifted a temporary restraining order that put the project on hold.
U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr.’s decision to dissolve the order follows a nine-hour mediation session Monday between Baylor, the Baylor Alumni Association, and the Chicago-area alumnus who obtained the restraining order ended without a resolution on the building’s future.
Kurt Dorr, who is described as a lifetime member of the BAA in legal documents, on Thursday amended his suit to seek at least $10 million in damages — $5 million minimum from Baylor and at least $5 million from Collin Cox and Elizabeth Coker, the current and former presidents of the BAA, respectively.
The judge’s Friday order gives Dorr up to seven days to announce whether he still intends to pursue the financial damages, or the case will be dismissed.
The Hughes-Dillard building has served as the headquarters for the Baylor Alumni Association since 1978.
“We’re disappointed in the judge’s decision to dissolve the (restraining order) and we are weighing our options and will proceed in a way that we feel is appropriate for our client and the mission he is on to save the (alumni center),” said Waco attorney John Mabry, one of Dorr’s five lawyers.
Mabry declined to comment on whether Dorr would still continue to seek the monetary damages.
Baylor had planned to tear down the building earlier this month to clear way for what will eventually become a grassy plaza leading to a pedestrian bridge across the Brazos River that will connect the campus to the stadium, which is being built on the opposite riverbank.
“We’re obviously glad that this action has allowed us to continue to move forward on Baylor Stadium and the exciting progress there, as well as our future relationship with the alumni association,” Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said.
Fogleman added that the university understands the emotional connection alumni had to the building and the various historical items that were collected in the center. Baylor last month began relocating statues and markers from Hughes-Dillard to other campus facilities.
Dorr originally sought the restraining order, signed by Smith on July 2, to delay the demolition until the alumni association’s full membership could vote Sept. 7 on whether to turn the building over to Baylor.
Mabry said he hopes Baylor will hold off on the demolition until BAA members are allowed to weigh in on the project.
“Once you tear down the building, it’s gone,” Mabry said. “You can’t unspill the milk.”
Relinquishing the Hughes-Dillard building to Baylor was among a number of changes the university and BAA leaders agreed upon in an effort to mend what has become a contentious relationship between the entities beginning in the early 2000s.
Cox and members of BAA’s executive committee on May 30 voted for the association’s staff to vacate the building in June and move into administrative offices in Baylor’s Clifton Robinson tower.
The executive committee also approved a proposed transition agreement that would turn over most alumni outreach efforts to Baylor except for publication of the Baylor Line magazine, which the BAA has printed since 1948.
The agreement also would spur the creation of a independent Baylor Line Corp. to continue the magazine, an alumni advisory board to include some current BAA leaders, and a non-voting alumni seat on Baylor’s board of regents.
The BAA’s full membership is set to vote whether to approve the agreement on Sept. 7, a day before Baylor plans to terminate its existing licensing agreement that allows the BAA to perform alumni duties.
“We’re certainly pleased with the court’s actions and we’re looking forward to things moving forward,” said J.D. Pauerstein, a San Antonio attorney who represented the BAA, Cox and Coker.
Dorr’s suit charged that the demolition plans for the Hughes-Dillard building violated a 1994 agreement about the use of the building which states that Baylor can only reclaim the facility if it has a need for the space, no alternative location exists, and it pledges to provide a building of comparable size, condition, quality of location and construction.
Cox said in a July 10 federal hearing that Baylor has announced intentions to build a new facility to accommodate the Baylor Line staff in the future.
Baylor regents last week announced a $17 million fundraising campaign for a new alumni events center that would be built next to the new stadium and include meeting rooms for special events. But it was unclear whether the building would include office space that would serve the Baylor Line employees.
Fogleman did not know when the Hughes-Dillard demolition would commence or whether the university would incur additional costs because of the delay. She did not know what date the demolition originally was supposed to begin this month.
Brian Nicholson, associate vice president of facilities, planning and construction for Baylor, previously said the university could have incurred as much as $300,000 in overtime costs if the project was delayed until the Sept. 7 vote.