ATHENS — The concern at the outset of Georgia’s ambition to build an indoor practice facility for football and other sports was whether it would be able to raise enough private-sector funds to keep it from draining its reserves. Well, that has happened, and then some.
According to UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity, the Bulldogs have already exceeded their goal of raising half of the $30 million needed to pay for the 109,000-square-foot building, which has been under construction since mid-December.
“We’re edging up on $16 million,” McGarity said this past week. “So we’ve already exceeded our goal and we still have two big naming opportunities for the field and for the facility itself. … The challenge now is to fund the whole thing since we’ve accomplished what we’ve accomplished, which is a lot in a short time.”
The majority of the donations have come in the form of signed pledges through Georgia’s newly formed “Magill Society.” Named for Dan Magill, the late founder of the Bulldog Clubs of America and legendary tennis coach and sports information director, entry into the Magill Society requires commitments at least $25,000, which can be paid to UGA’s athletic association over a five-year period.
But people aren’t doing it just because they want to see the Bulldogs’ indoor facility become a reality. They have been incentivized via ticket priority.
Any pledges made before Feb. 15 will receive 1.5 points toward season-ticket priority for every dollar donated and two points for pledges of $100,000 and above.
“So the Magill Society has been a huge success thus far,” McGarity said. “I think there’s about 150 members so far and they’ve donated over $15 million already. And that’s in signed pledges; it’s not verbal. If we counted verbal it’d be a lot more. So there’s a strong commitment there.”
Pro Football Hall of Famer and UGA legend Fran Tarkenton was the first football letterman to join the Magill Society via his donation.
“With all that I see going on in Athens, I believe the University and our football program are poised for greatness,” Tarkenton said in a UGA news release. “… I encourage my fellow lettermen to step up and help us bring about this much needed facility.”
The building is well on its way. Construction crews are now deep in the ground as they’re using giant excavators to remove hundreds of tons of dirt from the area of Woodruff Practice Fields between the Butts-Mehre Building and Stegeman Coliseum next to Rutherford Street. You can watch the ongoing construction in real time via time-lapse photography on UGA’s website. The “official” groundbreaking is Feb. 16 but the athletic association’s quarterly board meeting.
But it’s not going to be done anytime soon. The building is not expected to be completed until 2017. So the Bulldogs will have to utilize a temporary practice facility at UGA’s Club Sports complex on South Millege Avenue for all of 2016.
Georgia has had to sink millions into that project as well. They’ve repurposed three fields at that complex, including transferring one of their artificial turf fields to that area. They’ve also had to install lighting and made other improvements.
In the meantime, UGA’s club sports program will have to relocate its operation for the next year to the Intramural Fields on College Station Road.
“It’s going to be a great, great practice area,” McGarity said. “And while club sports will be displaced for a year, they’ll take it back over after that. And then they do, they’ll have the best club sports facility in America.”
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs will still be able to utilize the one Field Turf field next to Lumpkin Street and the field at Sanford Stadium.