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Originally published November 21, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 21, 2008 at 7:43 PM

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Will poor economy affect fundraising efforts to renovate UW, WSU football stadiums?

Washington and Washington State hope the failing economy won't hurt their chances to get funding needed to renovate Husky Stadium and Martin Stadium.

Seattle Times staff reporters

Year-round rivals on the field, peaking with the annual Apple Cup, the athletic departments of Washington and Washington State share common bonds when it comes to the checkbook.

Each is in the process of a major football stadium renovation and suddenly facing concerns about how to fund it given the drastic downturn in the economy the past few months.

At WSU, athletic director Jim Sterk said it's "likely" the Cougars will have to delay their target date of the 2010 football season for the completion of phase three of a major renovation to Martin Stadium.

Phase three, a $40 million segment, would include 18 luxury suites, loge boxes and club seats. WSU had hoped to begin construction early in 2009.

At UW, the Huskies are uncertain how the economy will affect their plans to begin raising money for a renovation of Husky Stadium.

"We don't know [what the impact will be]," said Jennifer Cohen, UW's senior associate director for development. "We just don't."

Washington has plans to begin raising money for a $300 million renovation of Husky Stadium next spring. First, it will ask the state Legislature for $150 million early next year, seeking an extension of the same tourism tax that is funding Safeco Field. If UW gets that money, it will try to raise $150 million on its own through private and corporate donations and premium seating, among other avenues.

Both figured to be tough tasks even before the economy nosedived about as fast as the Huskies football team. Now, each looks even more imposing, especially in light of news this week that the state budget for higher education will be cut 20 percent.

Washington athletic director Scott Woodward noted this week that the athletic department is self-sustaining, so the budget cut won't impact athletics directly.

"But we are part of this campus, and we are going to look at austerity issues and being prudent about how we spend," Woodward said.

That belt-tightening, however, won't impact what the school might pay a new football coach. UW is in the process of finding a successor for Tyrone Willingham.

"One of our top priorities is our football program," Woodward said. "That [brings in] 85 percent of our revenue and we have to get that right, and we will not hold back there. But we will be smart and prudent and pay market."

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The stadium renovation, meanwhile, is separate from the daily budget. Washington has begun laying the groundwork for the fundraising campaign, but has yet to start it in earnest.

"Obviously, today would be a very difficult day to ask for anything," said Ron Crockett, owner of Emerald Downs racetrack and a noted Huskies booster who has chaired several of the school's athletic fund drives.

School officials say they hope the economic picture begins to clear before the campaign begins in earnest.

"Hopefully [by then] we will have a better grasp of what is going on," Woodward said. "But we are looking for one-, two-, five-year pledges, so we're hoping that people will look at this more long-term and hoping that the economic worries are in our rearview mirror by then."

The economy also likely makes getting $150 million from the state harder. Woodward said the school plans to emphasize that approving the money could help the economy by creating a number of well-paying jobs.

"We [could] have hundreds of high-skilled labor jobs on campus in the middle of an economic downturn," Woodward said. The Huskies have already felt some effects of the economic downturn. Cohen said the department's endowment, which funds athletic scholarships, has decreased in market value by 13 percent.

But Cohen said annual fundraising has not taken any hits, and actually went up just a bit from December to June, compared to the same time frame a year ago. The school currently isn't in the middle of any significant campaigns, while prepping for the Husky Stadium project.

Cohen said she thinks a clearer indication of how the economy will affect the department will come next month when it will begin sending out renewals to members of the Tyee Club, where a donation is required, along with the cost of a football ticket. As one concession to the economy, Cohen said the school for the first time is instituting a payment plan for Tyee members as opposed to asking for all the money upfront.

Despite the economy and a poor season, revenue from the football program will likely still be strong due in part to getting every game on television. Men's basketball revenue has also been strong in recent years.

At WSU, Sterk said he is confident that about $16 million in pledges and commitments for the Martin Stadium project remains solid. But the larger portion that WSU had hoped to gain through revenue bonds is being reassessed, because, as Sterk put it, "The bonding market is kind of nonexistent.

"Our financial advisers felt there might be another opportunity through lending institutions."

While WSU explores that option, it should have design and construction documents done by year's end. But Sterk notes that if the 18-month proposed project isn't begun by the spring, it means postponing the finish date until at least 2011.

WSU's media guide includes a prominent display of the proposed renovation with the 2010 target date, and coaches have recruited to that time frame.

"Absolutely, we have to do this," Sterk said. "There's no question it needs to be done. It's just how and when."

Gary Schneidmiller, a Coeur d'Alene, Idaho real-estate developer/broker and a member of the stadium-renovation steering committee, says the economic downturn has muddied the timing of the project but hasn't dulled the will of the committee to see it through.

"I don't think we really know yet what the impact is," Schneidmiller says. "[But] when I look at our committee, approximately 18 to 20 people, I don't think there's one person any less committed today than they were 2 ½ to three years ago.

"These things, too, will pass. There's a lot of philanthropic intent that comes with Cougars."

Phase three would add 2,200 seats to Martin Stadium's north side, but the greater impact would be in stabilizing revenue for the athletic department.

Sterk says WSU is following with keen interest Washington's attempt to gain $150 million from the state Legislature.

"I think they [the Huskies] believe it can be done," Sterk said. "If there is funding, we have a heck of a lot of need for ours. We have $150 million to do on our stadium, very easily."

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com;

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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