MINNEAPOLIS -- A University of Minnesota graduate pledged $35 million Friday to match donations for the construction of a new football stadium -- the largest single gift in the university's 152-year history.
"This gift is my way to say 'Thank you' to an extraordinary institution," said T. Denny Sanford, a St. Paul native and 1958 university graduate who went on to own a South Dakota bank holding company and other businesses in the Twin Cities area.
Sanford, 67, said he remembered seeing the Gophers play football on campus in the old Memorial Stadium. He called it a tragedy that students today have to drive across town to watch games indoors at the Metrodome, which the Gophers also share with the Minnesota Twins and Vikings. Memorial Stadium has since been torn down.
Sanford said his pledge is to match up to $35 million in contributions from others. He also said he was offering the pledge on the condition that the stadium be built without tax money. He later said a minimal taxpayer contribution would be OK, such as adding a sales tax to sports team-related clothing, which currently isn't taxed.
Sanford said another donor has already offered another $1 million toward the stadium. He said he believes a stadium can be built for around $150 million.
University President Robert Bruininks said the university was grateful for the gift but noted that it would not be enough to build the stadium by itself and there still remained many obstacles to overcome.
"I want to stress that we are in the very early stages of exploring an on-campus stadium within the context of academic priorities," said Bruininks.
Bruininks declined to discuss any specifics about the stadium, including its potential cost, financing or size. Other estimates for the cost of a stadium that would seat 45,000 to 55,000 fans are in the neighborhood of $220 million.
While Sanford said he wants the Gophers stadium built with private money, the Minnesota Twins and Vikings are pursuing public help toward new stadiums. The Vikings and Gophers had been exploring a joint proposal, but those discussions ended when the two couldn't agree on a stadium's size and location.
University officials also have their eyes on possible fees from parking, advertising, and concessions they could collect if they had their own stadium. The university football program took in just $11.7 million during the fiscal year that ended in July 2002 -- 10th among Big Ten schools. Bruininks said a new stadium would increase revenue for all university sports, not just football.
Sanford lives in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he is chairman of the board of United National Bank Holding Co. He is also chairman of the board of First Premier Leasing Company in Edina. According to a news release, United National is a privately owned bank holding company with assets of more than $1 billion and more than 2,000 employees.
Sanford said he grew up in St. Paul, and his father was a wholesaler of work clothing. He last played football as an end at Minnehaha Academy, but lost his eligibility to play when he transferred to St. Paul Central High School.
Sanford's two sons, William and Scott, and his brother, Chuck, attended the university.
Sanford is a hands-on owner, said Dana Dykhouse, chief executive of Sanford's First Premier Bank in Sioux Falls, S.D. He said the donation "doesn't surprise me based on his philanthropic history in South Dakota."
That history includes a $2 million gift to Children's Home Society in Sioux Falls, which finds foster and adoptive parents for abused children.
South Dakota Lt. Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who is executive director at Children's Home, said he asked Sanford for $1 million in matching funds for a campaign to boost the organization's endowment. Others had offered anonymous donations, but Daugaard believed the campaign would have more credibility if it at least one person would make their gift public.
Sanford said he'd think about it. Then he gave $2 million.
"We were just flabbergasted that he would respond that way," Daugaard said of the 2001 donation. "His attitude was, 'if I'm going to be the public spokesperson, I really should be the lead donor."'
"Not only does he make generous commitments, but he delivers," Daugaard said. "Just a very genuine, generous guy."
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