Stadium Corp. looking ahead to improve Finley

Stadium Corp. looking ahead to improve Finley

February 20th, 2013 by David Paschall in Sportlocal

Merrill Eckstein is executive director of Finley Stadium and Davenport Field.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

Finley Stadium continues to be on sound financial footing, but the 20,668-seat facility will need some upgrades moving forward.

"There is an attitude that because we are generating positive cash flow that the needs are not as urgent as prior times," Stadium Corp. board chairman Bryan Patten said Tuesday. "That's not a point of view we want to support. We are going to have to put a new turf on this field, and it will not be free."

Eight University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football seasons have passed since TC Thiolon USA and Precision Sports Field Inc. provided a playing surface for the Mocs. Finley Stadium executive director Merrill Eckstein said the turf has a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years, so a sizable expense could be looming as soon as the conclusion of the 2016 season.

TC Thiolon, which is now TenCate, donated the surface in May 2005, and private funding generated $213,000 to cover the installation.

"We don't know at this point if we could get another carpet donated," Eckstein said. "Even if you do, you're still looking at $300,000 to $400,000 in installation costs."

Stadium Corp. board members took time Tuesday to discuss how to begin handling that big day. Any excess from the Friends of Finley campaign, which was birthed in 2007 as a result of the successful drive to finance the playing surface, would be a start, and other avenues will be tested as well.

It was suggested asking Chattanooga Mayor favorite Andy Berke for assistance, though board member Jerry Summers found that "presumptive" since the election is nearly two weeks away. Patten said the stability of the Chattanooga FC, the primary tenant each spring and summer, could lend those in the soccer community to help contribute.

"Friends of Finley is going to play an important role, but we know more about how to approach the city," Patten said. "We need to have similar discussions with the county. I've had several legislators tell me that if we see something coming three or four years ahead to at least acquaint them of the need.

"I wouldn't expect state appropriations to play much of a role, but city and county, especially if it's a capital item instead of moneys that you take away from hungry children, I think is a manageable challenge."

The task of a new turf will be passed from Eckstein to his successor. Eckstein, who took Finley's reins in June 2009, will be stepping down on June 30, 2014.

Patten would like to identify a new executive director by the end of this year so that person could work with Eckstein for a few months.

"I've seen it coming," Patten said. "It's been a happy situation on both sides of the equation. He came in with the demeanor and integrity to guide this situation very successfully, and he can leave on a high note."

When Eckstein pointed out that he turns 70 in August 2014, board member Gordon Davenport quickly retorted, "Hey, Merrill, 70 is the new 50."

As for more imminent potential changes to Finley, board member Ryan Crimmins asked Eckstein to look into the cost of open-air skyboxes and high-definition televisions in the skyboxes and concourse areas. Crimmins said he has heard from skybox owners who want to get more into games and would like the option of being able to open their windows.

Odds and ends

Patten said $63,200 has been committed so far through the Friends of Finley campaign and he is hopeful of raising $80,000 by June 30. ... The Stadium Corp. has a surplus of $46,258 through the first seven months of the fiscal year, according to Eckstein. ... Patten said "it's worrying to see Appalachian State and Georgia Southern looking to leave the Southern Conference," while Summers expressed his desire for UTC to leave the SoCon for the Ohio Valley Conference. ... Finley Stadium has its first website, finleystadium.com, which includes a calendar containing events for the facility, its stadium club and the First Tennessee Pavilion.