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Why Allen's $59.6 million high school football stadium makes sense
August 31, 2012By Tim Polzer of VYPE MAGAZINE - Collin County
Three years ago, the folks at Allen ISD knew the negative headlines would come the day after voters approved $119 million in bonds to fund the building of a Performing Arts Center, service center and a $59.6 million football stadium. Tonight, Allen Eagles Stadium will host its first varsity football game giving the world another opportunity to applaud, or scratch its collective head, at its immense profile.
For four quarters, the stadium will be more about whether or not Allen can knock off defending 5A Div. I state champion Southlake Carroll in their season-opener. An estimated 18,000 spectators will park among more than 5,000 spaces. They’ll marvel at the in-game presentations on the 75-by-45 foot HD video scoreboard. They shouldn’t feel too crowded walking through wide concourses offering continuous views of the sunken field, or miss an entire quarter waiting in line at the four concession plazas, featuring 42 serving lines – including Dickey’s Barbecue Pit and Chick-fil-A – or the almost 200 combined men’s and women’s restroom facilities. Barring a power outage or plumbing crisis, the stadium will rule the night.
Nationally and internationally prominent media outlets such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal will have their eyes on Allen. They have justifiably jumped at the chance to take a long look at the new stadium’s cost and construction. They used the $60 million price tag to help paint a perspective of just how important – good or bad – football is to most Texas high schools.
Allen ISD officials have put great effort into making media types aware that the actual figure is $59.6 million – because $400,000 is still a huge chunk of money for any school district.
Other “less prominent” and some best described as “less journalistic” blogs and websites have spewed disbelief and outrage at that $59.6 million price tag for a stadium. A large percentage of those have ranted and raved without looking much past the price tag, missing some of the perspective that the district wants opinion makers to weigh before questioning the district’s priorities.
When you boil it down, the stadium project is just another debate over whether an entity’s taxes should be used on creating new facilities to serve new and future growth, or fix potholes.
After Allen ISD voters approved the bond issue, the district has no legal choice in the matter. The money must be spent according to the voter-approved bond issue’s line items. Money cannot be diverted from the stadium project to help make up for reduced state funding and pay teacher salaries or maintain student services.
It’s difficult to question Allen’s student services. With one high school serving a population of approximately 90,000 inside the Allen city limits alone, the district must do everything bigger than most single schools.
At 498,000 square feet, Allen High School is larger than most, looking more like a small college campus and educating an enrollment of approximately 5,300. Allen ISD is forced to do everything bigger than most schools. With that large enrollment, comes more state funding than most schools, at least when the stadium’s bond issue was passed.
Since then, a ragged economy and reduced state funding has allowed critics to compare the stadium’s costs to the number of teaching jobs, though state funding regulations call those apples and oranges.
The bond issue also gave the district perhaps the area’s finest high school performing arts center, that also houses culinary arts classrooms servicing the school’s own restaurant and a television studio – all carrying a price tag of $23.2 million or roughly 40 percent of the stadium’s cost. (No, neither Food Network nor Bon Appetit or Entertainment Weekly magazines have questioned the district’s priorities to art.)
Big School, Big Stadium
A drive around Allen and adjacent cities taxable under Allen ISD’s borders shows a community that keeps up with growth by building outside the typical city planner’s box. The Allen Event Center hosts minor league hockey and indoor football. New shopping developments have sprouted up all along U.S. 75. It sounds funny, but the stadium was built to an appropriate scale as these other nearby school facilities. The stadium doesn’t look out of place sitting next to Allen’s large high school campus. The school district anticipated the need for a large stadium footprint when it purchased the 177-acre plot sixteen years ago – 14 years before ground was broken.
More than 8,000 season ticket sales promise to help fill the 18,000-seat stadium during five home games in 2012. It was designed to incorporate facilities that will benefit other Allen High School extracurricular programs including wrestling, golf and the Allen Escadrille's combination of marching band, color guard and drill team boasting more than 600 members.
Allen's big enrollment and game-night base will help fill those impressive concourses, concessions and fan areas, while also providing Allen ISD a marketing stream unlike any other high school stadium. School officials have taken steps to maximize the stadium’s revenue potential by entering into a groundbreaking marketing agreement with a well-known local sports marketing company.
PPI Marketing, founded by Dallas Cowboys legend and Hall of Famer Roger Staubach, is managing marketing, sponsorship and vendor agreements at the stadium and performing arts center.
PPI vice president Kris Cumnock has played a prominent role in the area’s high school sports community as the catalyst behind the annual Tom Landry Classic, a season-opening high school football showcase that also provides scholarship funds to students and athletes from participating schools.
“Our involvement with Allen ISD is to sell the corporate partnerships for the project. We’re approaching that a little more like how a college or professional organization would,” Cumnock said. “Any of the 10 founding partners will be visible at other Allen ISD athletic facilities. It’s going to be revenue that goes back into the school district and to the kids.”
Many of the larger area districts and schools have been generating some revenues from selling sponsorships using stadium signage and in-game activation, but Allen’s new stadium and performing arts center could present the case study as college sports marketing models trickle down to the high school level.
“From an athletic standpoint, every school district is looking to bring in incremental revenue, and Allen is no different. It’s so expensive to run and they had an opportunity to bring in that revenue with the stadium,” Cumnock said.
Community Economic Center
The district also believes the stadium will be an economic and entertainment center for the entire community. Superintendent Ken Helvey told The Dallas Morning News one of the project’s goals was for it to become a “destination point” for the community, as well as, a moneymaker.
Despite helping to provide an almost priceless learning environment for Allen High School students, that $23 million performing arts center complex won’t bring in a substantial revenue flow capable of offsetting its construction costs. The stadium will host a number of events outside Allen Eagles football games to help offset the state’s reduction in funding.
From The Dallas Morning News:
The district has already lined up two special events for the next calendar year: the NFL Network’s “Texas vs. the Nation” college all-star game in January and two showcase high school football games for the 2013 Tom Landry Classic in August.
Karen Cromwell, tourism manager at the Allen Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that although an economic impact study hasn’t been completed, the college all-star game could bring in $700,000 or more to the local economy. UIL playoff games or band competitions could bring in enough fans to fill all of Allen’s existing hotels, she said.
Money generated from ticket sales, special-events parking, stadium rentals and partnerships will go into the district’s general fund.
Local media coverage has been mostly positive. Matt Wixon of The Dallas Morning News “can’t blame” Allen for building such a fine stadium. Frisco ISD superintendent David Kuykendall and Southlake Carroll coach Hal Wasson told Wixon that Allen “knew what they were doing.”
Kuydendall's and Wasson's school districts already enjoy playing at top-notch stadiums, yet back-channel criticism among the North Texas high school coaching community has been at a minimum. Most coaches –and even rival boosters –at other schools can’t help but realize that, by raising the bar on Eagles Stadium, the Allen ISD is also helping prepare school taxpayers for future stadium construction or improvement bond issues in their own districts.