LOUISVILLE, Ky . (WDRB) -- Given all the athletic building the University of Louisville has done in the past 20 years, it's a bit surprising that the latest addition will be the second-largest project, in terms of dollars, that the school's athletic department has undertaken.
And it's for soccer.
U of L athletic director Tom Jurich wandered around the Yum! Center basketball and volleyball facility on campus Thursday asking the same question, "Can you believe we're building a soccer stadium?"
Behind a $5 million lead gift by Dr. Mark Lynn and his wife Cindy, U of L announced the newest addition to its Belknap Campus athletic facilities -- a $17.5 million stand-alone soccer stadium that U of L men's soccer coach Ken Lolla said, "is unlike any other college facility in the country. Nobody has anything like this."
The stadium will seat 5,300, with the possibility for more. It will include a 15,000-square-foot soccer-only training center. It will house a television studio where U of L can tape coaches' shows, player interviews and other video features for television and Internet. The stadium will feature an expansive press box and an overhang that can be backlit or front-lit for different effects. It will expand U of L's athletic footprint along Floyd Street and Interstate 65 -- though not so much, Jurich noted, that a basketball arena couldn't still be easily placed within the confines of the vicinity.
U of L is pushing beyond the $300 million mark in athletic facility spending, all of it privately funded and paid for by the university's athletic department itself, and its donors.
In the case of soccer, it is within $3 million of raising all the money for the stadium, and the gift from Lynn brought the university close enough to get the ball rolling. Jurich said he hopes construction will be finished by September, 2014.
Lynn, meanwhile, is on quite a roll. You probably don't recognize his name, but you'll recognize his company's name -- the Bizer Vision Centers, and their various names.
Lynn has become one of the city's leading philanthropists. He bought the Kentucky State Fair champion country ham for $300,000 last August, two years after paying $800,000 for the champion ham in 2010. In January, he was elected chairman of the state fair board. He's a repeat winner of Rick Pitino's golf scramble.
And while he's built his Visionworks company into a giant and gives large amounts of time and money to provide vision care to the underprivileged, he's still involved in the medical side of things, and does some vision work with U of L athletes personally.
Lynn has served on U of L's board of trustees and won the athletic association's Hickman-Camp honor for being among its most valued supporters.
And now he has naming rights to what will be named the Dr. Mark and Cindy Lynn the soccer stadium.
"So many times we've seen the community step forward to support this athletic program," said Mark Jurich, the U of L assistant athletic director who is overseeing the project's completion. "But it never fails to amaze you how much people want to give back to this university, and how much it means to them. I don't think we can express our gratitude to Mark and Cindy enough. This is the largest individual gift we've ever gotten."
Tom Jurich said talk of the soccer stadium garnered U of L more attention at recent ACC meetings than anything else.
"I was surprised at how much interest there was in what we were doing," Jurich said. "I think every soccer coach in the ACC is now going to their athletic director saying, 'Why can't we do this?' . . . Soccer is a huge sport in this community, and we're looking at this as an opportunity to show our commitment to men's and women's soccer and people around the country involved in the sport are noticing."
Word about U of L's stadium already had been published on Major League Soccer's website mlssoccer.com in advance of Thursday's announcement.
The Estopinal Group developed the design for the stadium, which will be located across from Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The addition of another sports venue in the Floyd Street-Central Avenue area further advances Jurich's vision of a "Sports Corridor" along Central. With Churchill Downs, U of L's Patterson Stadium for baseball and Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Jurich at one time hoped to establish a sports, retail and entertainment corridor along Central Avenue that would be capped by a basketball arena at the Fairgrounds.
"The only piece missing is about seven miles away, downtown," Jurich quipped. And it wasn't his only veiled reference to recent crossfire the university has taken over funding issues with KFC Yum! Center, of which it is the anchor tenant.
Jurich noted that the soccer stadium's place in U of L athletics' campus "footprint" would not diminish the available land for an on-campus arena should that ever become a possibility (he has noted in the past that more acreage is available for a campus structure than was available downtown for the current stadium).
As for soccer, the new facility positions U of L to continue to move forward, especially a men's soccer program that is becoming a national fixture. Under Lolla, U of L's men's soccer team has been to three straight Elite Eights and reached the national title game in 2010. Andrew Farrell was the No. 1 pick in the MLS Draft earlier this year, and the program has had nine MLS draft picks in the past three years, including 2012 MLS rookie of the year Austin Berry and his runner-up for that award, Nick DeLeon.
"Quite simply, this allows us to recruit the best players in the country," Lolla said. "The best players will want to play here."
U of L will continue to use its current practice facility, as well as the Cardinal Park soccer field, for practice purposes. The new stadium will have a natural grass surface.
Having built or renovated a new facility for every sport since 1996, Jurich was asked Thursday what happens now -- a second facility for every sport? He laughed, then noted that U of L was working on improvements to its softball stadium, and might even consider adding sports with entry into the ACC. Men's lacrosse is one that has high interest, but there could be others.
"We're always going to be moving forward," he said.
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