USC pulls request for $125 million to renovate Coliseum

ashain@thestate.comNovember 22, 2013 

  • USC president still wants more Five Points changes

    University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides said Friday that he still wants all Five Points bars to close at 2 a.m. and to make the entertainment district a pedestrian-only zone on weekend nights.

    Pastides wants solutions that boost late-night safety in the popular off-campus hub after USC freshman Martha Childress from Greenville was paralyzed last month by a stray bullet.

    Merchants have balked at mandatory bar and street closings. But Pastides hopes they will see his suggestions as a way to boost business because more students will consider the area safe. He said he will meet with merchants soon.

    “If there is anything Martha has helped teach us, (it) is that we can do better,” Pastides told USC student leaders.

    Meanwhile, USC is moving forward with plans to add lighting and police call boxes on the streets between Five Points and its downtown campus. A shuttle service, started after the shooting, is attracting students with more than 1,000 riding last Friday, Pastides said.

    Andrew Shain

— The University of South Carolina withdrew a $125 million state budget request to renovate the Carolina Coliseum on Friday — even though the school says it did not intend to ask for the money next year.

USC trustees and legislators were not aware of the budget request until the news was reported by The State last week.

University chief financial officer Ed Walton told school trustees Friday the money was included in a 2014-15 budget request to Gov. Nikki Haley’s office as a heads-up alert to lawmakers about a future project.

The renovation would transform the former 12,000-seat home of the Gamecock basketball teams into a student-services hub with classrooms, according to budget documents.

The $125 million was an estimate of the cost of that renovation by Walton, based on a previous study.

“This was nothing more than a faithful bureaucrat trying to put something together,” Walton told trustees. After the meeting, Walton said including the item in USC’s budget request was his mistake.

The school is working to have a feasibility study on the project done. USC said it does not have a date for making a budget request.

Trustee Charles Williams, an Orangeburg attorney, questioned why the school would spend $125 million to renovate the 45-year-old Assembly Street arena when the money could be used on a new building.

“I’m not sure what the vision is,” Williams said to USC president Harris Pastides.

Pastides said he wants to look at the school’s needs after five years of growing enrollment and expenditures on new dorms and academic buildings before moving forward on the coliseum.

“We are a renewed university,” he told trustees.

After the meeting, Pastides said he wanted to remove the request as the university seeks $7 million in additional money next year from the Legislature to cover rising operating costs. In exchange, USC has said it would temporarily freeze its tuition. Pastides had promised to make no special funding requests while agreeing to put a hold on rising tuition bills for up to three years.

Some legislators had reacted negatively to the request for so much money.

In other action at the USC board meeting Friday, trustees:

•  Agreed to sell the coastal 1,500-acre Wedge Plantation, on the border of Georgetown and Charleston counties.

USC officials said a lease on the property, which includes a house built in 1826, has expired. The plantation has been used for hunting. However, the school says it has had a tough time finding a new tenant who would cover the plantation’s operating costs.

Trustees were concerned about selling the property after the economic downturn. “We would look kind of silly selling at the bottom of the market,” trustee Mack Whittle said.

The plantation, bought by the university for $1 million, was appraised at $4 million, school officials said.

The board agreed to a suggestion by trustee Eddie Floyd that proceeds from the sale would be put away for another land purchase.

The plantation is near the 1,200-acre Prince George tract in Georgetown County that a USC foundation wants to sell.

•  Approved a new $27.5 million new student health center to be built next to current clinic, behind the Russell House. The project will be paid for with state bonds and health center reserve bonds.

No completion date was announced. The project requires state approval before construction can begin.

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