Haston calls out UH over TDECU Stadium, Hofheinz renovation
During the public comment portion of Monday’s SFAC hearings, Student Government Association President Charles Haston blasted the Department of Administration and Finance for failing to honor portions of the referendum that was voted on by the student body.
As a result, TDECU Stadium is not yet completed and is projected at $16 million “and counting” over budget, leaving the University without funding for the renovation of Hofheinz Pavilion.
During his address to the committee, Haston called upon SFAC and the student body to “take (the issue) very seriously.”
“The stadium is actually several million dollars over budget,” Haston said. “We don’t know where it’s going to end up, and we probably won’t for several months. Because it’s several millions dollars over budget, there’s no money to renovate Hofheinz. We don’t know when we’re going to start renovating Hofheinz.”
Passed in 2012, the Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU was included in the referendum that increased the Student Service Fee by $45. Among other things, this increase was passed to fund the construction of the new football stadium and the renovation of Hofheinz. Several portions of the Stadium, including the Spirit of Houston marching band practice facilities, have not yet been completed.
Haston emphasized that the MOU’s clauses have “a direct effect on students, including (allowing them) to utilize (TDECU Stadium and Hofheinz Pavilion) with no facility rental fee for events like Frontier Fiesta and Homecoming… considering it’s really students who have paid for these facilities.”
The MOU specifies that the $45 fee increase will be used “to complete financial support for two capital projects, specifically the construction of a new football stadium and renovation of Hofheinz Pavilion.” The MOU also explicitly calls for the student body to host “one student special event per year in the Stadium and Arena (total 2) with no facility rental fee.”
During its SFAC presentation on Friday, Frontier Fiesta submitted a one-time allocation of $96,990 to hold the three-day event in TDECU Stadium and its surrounding parking lots, a charge in direct violation of the MOU’s clause giving student organizations clearance to utilize the facility free of charge. Frontier Fiesta also submitted a one-time allocation of $132,500 for a predicted “increase in operational/production expenses for increase in size,” according to Frontier Fiesta’s SFAC report.
“Over the last four months, we’ve negotiated a cost of utilizing the stadium for Frontier Fiesta this coming year,” Haston said. “The original price quote we got back was in excess of $440,000 for utilizing that facility, despite the fact that the Memorandum of Understanding clearly states that we get to utilize those facilities at no facility usage fee.”
“(We have managed to) get that number down, but the fact that SGA has been put in this position to have to continue fighting for the MOU’s clauses and the enforcement of those clauses is just ridiculous,” Haston said.
“There are many points in the MOU that are not being honored.”
Haston also noted the Department of Administration and Finance refused to publicly present to SFAC, instead contacting several members of the committee and requesting to meet in a private setting, despite the fact that SFAC allocated upwards of $80 million to the stadium
“Every single student organization and department and division that receives Student Service Fee money is responsible for coming out and presenting to SFAC,” Haston said.
“That lack of transparency is not consistent with the usage of the Student Service Fee or with department and division expectations that come through SFAC.”
The MOU allows SGA to appoint “five to seven” students to a committee that will monitor and review athletics’ usage of the facilities funded by student fees. The committee will also examine the financial performance of TDECU Stadium and Hofheinz Pavilion, “as well as to review scheduling processes and planned maintenance.”
Haston called upon SFAC Chairman Nathan Alsbrooks and all students sitting on SFAC “to be that group of students to oversee the usage of these facilities.”
“Just because I formally gave Nathan that oversight doesn’t mean he didn’t have it already,” Haston said afterward. “SFAC has the oversight to monitor where student fees are going.”
At the address’ close, the committee did not offer any comments or ask questions.
“I think it’s important that this committee will keep people accountable who were responsible for actually making sure that we built a stadium and renovated Hofheinz with that money we agreed to spend,” Haston said.