University of Colorado President Bruce Benson directed the CU Foundation to donate $10 million to the athletic department toward the push for $143 million in facilities upgrades in and around Folsom Field.
The gift — made in January — is the largest ever given to the CU athletic department, and it helped push athletic director Rick George past the halfway point in early February toward achieving his goal of at least $50 million in private funding before going into the bond market for the rest of the money for the project.
Ken McConnellogue, CU's vice president for communications, said Wednesday the money came from interest earnings on long-term investments that the foundation makes.
"The president felt like this was an important initiative, and the foundation board thought it was a good investment and wanted to partner with the president and with athletics," McConnellogue said.
He said it was at least the fourth time the president has directed the foundation to use interest income to support capital construction projects within the CU system. Benson also directed $10 million in interest income from the foundation to the BioFrontiers building, McConnellogue said.
He said the conversation about a $10 million contribution from the foundation first began with former athletic director Mike Bohn, but it was formalized and completed by Benson and George. A school's fundraising arm using interest income to help pay for needs schools have is "a common model" in higher education, McConnellogue said.
The athletic department will soon reveal whether it has met its goal of raising the $50 million or if it will require more time.
George and his team already have made history by raising more money — even without the $10 million donation — in the seven months he has been on the job than any previous athletic director raised in any full year.
The project includes a new permanent indoor practice facility on the east side of Folsom Field, enclosing the northeast corner of the stadium to add a new high-performance sports medicine center that will serve the public as well as CU student-athletes. It will also add thousands of square footage for academic support staff and study areas, new football offices, a new football weight room and locker room, and new locker rooms and weight room for sports such as track and cross country that don't have them now.
While George has set a goal of raising at least $50 million for the project, the Board of Regents required that one-third of the cost, or $47.7 million, be raised before work can begin. George reported in early February that he was more than halfway to the goal of $50 million.
George targeted an early April timetable to have the money in place in order to begin construction in late April or early May in hopes of completing the project by August 2015.
When Chancellor Phil DiStefano decided to part ways with Bohn last spring, he said he wanted to hire an athletic director who would run the department more like a business and expand its fundraising capabilities, even though Bohn was easily the most successful fundraiser in CU athletics history to that point.
"I think that's what Rick has been able to do," DiStefano said. "It's exactly what I was looking for, and I feel very fortunate that we were able to get Rick to come here given what he was able to accomplish with the Texas Rangers and the PGA."
DiStefano said there have been no substantial changes made to the way the athletic department raises money since making the change in athletic directors. He said there are no new doors open to George that weren't open to Bohn and others before him.
"I think he has done a couple of things," DiStefano said. "Certainly, he has talked to individuals that are new to athletics. He's done a very good job of reaching out to former players, reaching out to individuals he knew when he was here once before.
"Secondly, I think he has done a tremendous job of conveying his vision for athletics with the strategic plan and his vision for the facility. In my experience working with donors, what they want to know is that the department is being managed well, that the leadership in the department has a vision and the individual is committed to seeing this done."
DiStefano stopped short of saying George's success reflects poorly on past efforts to raise money in the department. He said George simply has a different style that seems to resonate at CU.
"I think it's just a new way and new direction and being able to really articulate what it is that he sees for the future," DiStefano said.
DiStefano said from the day George took over the athletic department on Aug. 12 to Thanksgiving, George might have taken one or two days off and the majority of that time he spent fundraising. DiStefano said he believes that dedication to the cause is also a big reason why George is raising money at historic levels.
George also made major revisions to the original plan for athletics facilities upgrades such as locating the indoor facility on the east side of Folsom Field rather than down the hill and across Boulder Creek near the current practice fields. George also came up with the idea of turning the north end zone seating and part of the Dal Ward Center into a club area and adding the high-performance sports center. He also plans to lease parts of the south exterior of the stadium for retail businesses.
George made a video with student-athletes sharing stories about how the lack of facilities affects them athletically and academically, and that helped him sell the need to regents and some donors.
"I think what's different is, one, I think it's a really good plan," George said when asked if he has instituted any significant changes to the way fundraising is done by the department. "It wasn't my plan. It's kind of what we've developed, but I think it's a really good plan. I think that's why the regents voted 9-0. It wasn't an issue at the state Legislature. What we've shown in this plan is it's going to accommodate all of our student-athletes."