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Forward Together raises $25 million

 

The University of Mississippi Athletics Department has been hitting the streets since it unveiled its Forward Together campaign on Aug. 10.

In just under two months, the group has reached a miniature milestone, topping $25 million in donations.

The Forward Together capital campaign is a $150 million fundraising effort to build a new basketball arena and expand the football stadium. 

The construction of the Forward Together project will be completed over a two-phase plan for both venues.  

The first phase will replace the Tad Smith Coliseum and build a brand new basketball arena. It will also include major renovations to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. 

The second phase will expand the football stadium by bowling in the north end zone.   

The first $100 million will go toward Phase One of the project, and the other $50 million will go to Phase Two.

The need to replace Tad Smith Coliseum has been a hot topic for quite some time.  

The university opened the arena in 1966, and it has become obvious to the majority of the Rebel nation that change is inevitable. 

It became even more apparent less than a year ago when a women’s basketball game against the Tennessee Lady Vols was “rained out” and the game ended with 5 minutes and 24 seconds left in the game.

“I think this plan is very important for the basketball program, being a program on the edge of really turning the corner of being successful,” senior political science major Kennedy Flora said.

Chancellor Dan Jones also commented on the need for a new basketball arena.  

“It will serve not only basketball, but our current coliseum serves as a gathering place for the university community in lots of events,” he said. “The Tad Pad has served us well for many years, but it’s tired and needs to be replaced.”   

The new arena will hold around 10,000 fans with courtside and baseline seating for students.  

It will also have 1,500 premium seats with two exclusive club areas.  

Phase One of the football stadium will improve the concourse areas, which include restrooms, concessions and lighting that will change the look of the stadium, according to senior associate athletic director Danny White.  

Phase Two will bowl in the north end zone, making it identical to the south end zone on the inside. 

The outside will have a north end zone plaza, which will face the Grove.

It’s quite clear Tad Smith Coliseum has seen its last days, but the question arises whether bowling in the north end zone of the football stadium is necessary.  

It has typically been hard to sell out all of the games in the stadium even without the proposed increase in seating.

The only exception was the 2009 season, when the Rebels came into the season ranked in the top 10.  

However, Danny White said he believes they can fill up the stadium. 

White is the executive director of the UMAA Foundation, whose job for the campaign is to manage his division of fundraisers to help raise the money needed.

“We’re coming off our second consecutive year of record enrollment with our freshman class,” White said. “The student body is growing, which means our alumni base is growing.”  

He also said Oxford and the counties surrounding Memphis are currently growing, which should increase attendance over time.

Another major question about the campaign is how the university will pay the large amount of money required for the new projects. 

White said student tuition will not go up to help fund the campaign. According to White, private funds will support 100 percent of the campaign through the UMAA Foundation.  

“We have a staff of talented fundraisers, and we’re out beating the streets every day,” he said.

The donation fund is divided into two areas: Philanthropic Giving and Capital Gift Agreements.  

Philanthropic Giving is estimated to make up 34 percent of the giving, while Capital Gifts will make up 66 percent.  

White talked about the importance of getting as many donors as possible, even though there are large donations that come from certain donors close to the university.

“We have some very significant donors that have given a lot to the athletic department and folks that are considering substantial gifts to this campaign,” he said. 

As nice as it is to have the big donors, White said the main part of the campaign is about getting as many people to donate as possible.  

“We need thousands of our loyal fans and supporters and alumni to step up, and they’re already starting to in a big way,” White said.

“The facilities that we are talking about building and the revenue streams that this campaign generates really bring us on par with any athletic department across the country, and the feedback we’ve been getting is highly, highly positive.”

A new basketball arena was not proposed sooner because there were a lot of other debts the athletic program had to pay off first for facilities that were built in the last 15 years, White said.

UM athletic director Pete Boone said this project will take a little bit from everybody.    

“Our fans have said, ‘We want a bowl vision, we want to be asked to help, we want to move Ole Miss forward and we don’t want to be step-children,’ and this accomplishes all of those things,” he said.   

“And it’s going to get done. I mean, I’m so confident in it!”