published Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Nice surplus wrapping up Finley Stadium's year

Finley Stadium is located at 1826 Carter St. in downtown Chattanooga.
Finley Stadium is located at 1826 Carter St. in downtown Chattanooga.
Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse.

Finley Stadium will produce a record surplus of roughly $50,000 when the 2011-12 fiscal year ends June 30.

The surplus is a sizable surprise considering it follows the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's disappointing 5-6 football season as well as the city pulling the $60,000 it had funded each of the previous four fiscal years. Yet it does occur after an incredibly mild winter and a relatively mild springtime conclusion.

Merrill Eckstein, the executive director of the Stadium Corp., said Tuesday that the surplus was $61,239 through the end of May.

"I am very pleased, and I absolutely had no idea this would be possible," Eckstein said. "We've been very fortunate with the mild winter and that we didn't have any pipes break, and our water bill was down because we didn't have any pipes break. We also had less demand on power, and we have really done a good job of conserving the power usage at the stadium."

Finley's revenues are down about $83,000 from last year mostly because of the city no longer funding the $60,000 and because concessions are off by $8,480. UTC posted a record home attendance average of 12,699 during the 2010 football season, but that figure slipped to 10,436 last season.

The reduction in expenses has been a staggering $130,000, thanks largely to Mother Nature. According to Eckstein's figures, the water bill is down $5,077 from a year ago and the gas/electric bill is off $22,975.

Cleaning services have experienced a drop of $18,442, and security costs are down $21,307.

"Merrill has just done a magnificent job of stabilizing and managing Finley Stadium," board chairman Bryan Patten said.

The Stadium Corp. submitted an application to the city for funding in March, but Eckstein doubts he will receive any or bother applying again. In his proposed budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which calls for a $1,000 surplus and was approved Tuesday, the Stadium Corp. will receive $50,000 from the Chattanooga Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, which is $10,000 less than each of the past five years.

"We hope that they will see fit to keep it at $50,000, because we know we bring in visitor traffic and therefore visitor dollars," Eckstein said. "There is justification for hotel-motel tax coming into the stadium."

Eckstein announced that Sgt. Jeff Clark, who is retiring from the Chattanooga Police Department on July 1, will be Finley's full-time operations director. Clark will be in charge of maintenance and security and will coordinate directly with users of the 20,668-seat facility.

This is expected to be a much bigger autumn for Finley, with the return of UTC home games against Appalachian State and Georgia Southern and the return of the Baylor-McCallie high school rivalry.

"Going forward, the outlook is great," board member Ryan Crimmins said.

Still going strong

The Chattanooga Football Club soccer team is not drawing the same crowds it did a couple of years ago, but Eckstein is by no means disappointed.

"I think that's a case of the newness wearing off," he said, "and I liken it to the Lookouts after the first two or three years at AT&T Field or to the Aquarium, which had over a million and a half people the first year and within four or five years was down to a million. The good news is that both of those situations stabilized, and I think that's happening likewise with Chattanooga FC.

"We have a genuine fan base of 1,500 to 2,000 who are here virtually every game, and that is killing the attendance of every other team in the league. They've got a lot to be proud of, and we're pleased to have them here."

Odds and ends

Mike Davis, who oversees capital projects for the stadium, said his biggest concern moving forward is the roof area above the press box and the third-level skyboxes. ... Patten expects between $66,000 and $71,000 in Friends of Finley campaign contributions for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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