State and university will benefit from new stadiums

Posted: Monday, February 15, 2010

In 2008, Hickel Investments, Hickel Construction and Engineering Inc. and the Crawford Family Trust proposed building two new stadiums for the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves. We committed to design, build and operate the two new stadiums. The Seawolves deserve nationally ranked facilities to match our nationally ranked teams.

Projected cost was $94.5 million for the hockey and basketball stadiums. We worked with then-Reps. Kevin Meyer and Bill Stoltz, both avid university athletic supporters, who captured $15 million for architecture and design. Two years later, half the money is gone, after designing buildings that the UA Regents just refused to authorize.

As the former Deputy Director of Alaska State Housing Authority, ASHA, I used to oversee the State Leased Building Program. We built hundreds of Alaskan buildings. We learned through lawsuits not to design projects separately but combine architectural and engineering with construction. Design construct saved ASHA millions, stopping costly overruns and lawsuits. Cost control is paramount in construction and effective with design construct.

With that history, I asked Pete Hickel, president of Hickel Construction and Engineering to partner on the Sports Complex. Pete in turn invited Hickel Investments aboard for their broad experience at building, construction and management. We had the experience, capital and drive to complete the project.

Growing up in Anchorage and Fairbanks, I saw sports programs ignored. Now, our students race at national championships. Our students define sports excellence, ranking in skiing, basketball, cross-country and hockey. Kikkan Randall is an Olympian. Alaska athletes have a chance to grab gold at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. It is amazing that successful sports programs can be run from decrepit quarters.

Financially, the difference between building a legislative building and a sports complex is overhead that requires higher annual appropriations. An office building grows more expensive state government. A sports complex generates more revenue and pays its own way. Other buildings generate grants or increase tuition payers. University buildings generating more revenue than expense pay for themselves and should be built.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Life Sciences Building and the UAA Seawolves Sports Complex generate more revenue than needed to pay for themselves. The same may be true for other university buildings in Juneau or Bethel.

In working with Alaska Growth Capital, the subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional, on financing the Seawolves Sports Center, I learned from Hugh Short, their CEO, of AGC's receipt of a $50 million commitment for tax credits. Tax credit buildings must be situated in federally targeted areas. The Seawolves Sports Center can be located in one. Others could also be located within tax credit zones. Short indicated that the Seawolves Sports Complex could qualify for $20 million in tax credits. We could save $20 million if we build it now.

What stops building these university buildings? Regional politics. The regents must approve the projects and the Legislature and governor must approve the leases for lease back projects.

The regents approved the new building for the Fairbanks campus. They should also approve the Seawolves Sports Complex. Both the Fairbanks Life Science Building and the Anchorage Seawolves Sports Complex are in Alaskans' fiscal interests. The Legislature and Gov. Sean Parnell should approve both as design construct, lease back projects this session.

The legislative practice of appropriating a building's design costs then years later passing construction funding if we have the money and if they have the votes is flawed. One region can trump another region and the result is designed buildings that do not get built.

Analysis paralysis is a waste of money. With design construct, we can turn dirt. The UA procurement guide encourages innovative approaches to accomplish the university's facilities. The Seawolves Sports Complex was prepared in compliance with that guide. A similar approach could build the Life Sciences building.

Regional gridlock entraps our athletes in outdated and cramped sports facilities and stymies future opportunities for higher education throughout Alaska. Our students pay the price. Construction workers in Fairbanks and Anchorage sit idle. Delayed buildings, more expensive with inflation, cost all Alaskans more if finally built.

I generally do not favor buildings that add to state overhead. I do support university projects that generate more revenue than they consume and I hope you will too. Our students and all cost conscious Alaskans will thank us for building them now.

If you agree, call your Legislator, the governor, other gubernatorial candidates and your regents to authorize and support building these projects this legislative session. Let's not wait another two years of gridlock. Let's turn dirt in 2010.

• Jim Crawford is a third-generation Alaskan and the former deputy executive director of Alaska State Housing Authority, the predecessor to AHFC. He is an Anchorage real estate broker and developer who welcomes feedback. He can be reached at

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