Inside Sanford’s gift to USD

Interior of new USD arena

BY JEREMY HOECK
jeremy.hoeck@yankton.net

What’s the best gift you ever got?

A new bike? An iPod? A puppy? A new car?

Try the gift the University of South Dakota got Wednesday from Sanford Health on for size.

Twenty million dollars.

Million.

The massive regional health system donated the money to USD in an effort to not only fund the school’s 6,000-seat basketball & volleyball arena project, but to extend a relationship as the exclusive sports medicine provider for athletics for 15 years.

If you’re surprised, don’t be.

Most of us saw this move coming, especially following similar Sanford gifts to North Dakota State ($10 million) in 2010 and to South Dakota State last week ($10 million) — not to mention a naming rights deal with the upcoming Sioux Falls events center.

Like was the situation in Brookings for a new indoor practice facility and human performance center, the announcement of the gift to USD is designed to kick-start donations for the project. Nothing previously had been released to the public, so you had to think they were waiting for something big.

If you think of it like a street performer, to better your odds of people coming by and dropping in money, you start with a donation to get things rolling. Or the same situation with a tip jar: To encourage people to do the same, drop in a dollar.

Except, in the case of Sanford, theirs is 20 million of those dollars.

(That sounded awkward, I know)

The original unofficial price tag on the arena project by itself was in the neighborhood of $50 million, and even with inflation, Sanford’s gift accounts for 40 percent — a good start.

USD athletic director David Sayler also said Wednesday that he has received additional donations totaling $9 million, with a portion pledged to a new outdoor track & field complex in Vermillion.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that more donations will start rolling in, now that Sanford has donated such a big chunk of the final cost.

Jeremy Kudera, an orthopedic surgeon in Yankton and former men’s basketball star at USD, said as much when I talked to him Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s great to be able to see the funding going in the right direction. It’s a generous donation, and something they needed to get things going. When almost half of this is taken care of, it’s more of a realistic goal.”

That’s obviously the next step for USD.

The momentum for the project is at its peak right now, following Sanford’s gift. The last thing they need is to let this period fizzle away and struggle to find the remaining $30-35 million. And remember, according to Board of Regents policy, all the money has to come from private donors: It can’t come from the state’s general fund or other revenues from the university.

In total, the three phases of USD’s 2015 Master Plan for Athletic Facilities will cost approximately $70 million.

  • Phase 1 is the basketball/volleyball arena, with a new competition court, three practice courts, a new student-athlet academic center & computer lab, basketball & volleyball locker rooms, new administrative & coaches offices, a new athletic training room and 14 luxury boxes.
  • Phase 2 is DakotaDome renovations, which includes a new playing surface (football turf), an expanded football locker room, added seating to 16,000, new suites, new concession stands and new restrooms.
  • Phase 3 is a new 400-meter outdoor track and a new soccer complex. USD does not have an outdoor track in Vermillion, and occasionally travels to Yankton for home meets. Soccer has a home in Yankton, located north of the dome.

For now, however, the focus is on the arena project.

Speaking of which, my immediate impression when I saw the photo of the new area interior was the Taylor Center at Minnesota State-Mankato. That place is a great venue to watch basketball, and for a fan, it has to be pretty intimate. You’ll notice the entrance to the arena is higher than the actual playing floor, and that was by design.

When it comes to actually breaking ground on the new building, you’re probably talking at least a year — or whenever the money is raised and the Board of Regents gives the go-ahead.

Until then, Sanford’s gift will serve as the turning point in the project.

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