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Baseball: What took so long for the Tigue’s grandstand to fall?

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, July 30, 2016

As a demolition crew outside was busy Thursday tearing down the grandstand at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field, the UL baseball stadium now undergoing a $16 million renovation, Ragin’ Cajuns athletic director Scott Farmer sat inside his nearby office and fielded questions about a widely perceived delay in the project.

Farmer smiled, and paused.

“I’m hesitant,” he said, “because you’ve never heard anyone at the university mention the word ‘delay.’ Ever.

“Now you’re gonna laugh at that, but you’ve never heard any of us mention delay,” Farmer added. “There has been work going on. … It’s just not necessarily what people can see.”

In any event, full-fledged demolition did not begin until this week — almost two months after nationally ranked UL’s season ended with back-to-back losses to Arizona in the NCAA Lafayette Regional played at The Tigue.

Farmer on Thursday outlined the confluence of events that kept the grandstand, press box and operations booth from falling much earlier — something that might have lessened the number of dates UL might have to play elsewhere early next season, when the reno work is expected to be in its final stages.

It begins with the Cajuns deciding they wanted the stadium available to host 2016 postseason play, something that paid off with the awarding of the NCAA Regional that also featured Princeton and Sam Houston State.

“The decision to allow postseason play backed the project up to the last week of June anyway,” Farmer said.

The Regional ended June 6, and UL kept ensuing dates open at The Tigue for potential Super Regional play that never materialized.

Even while the Regional was underway, utilities-related infrastructure work around the stadium had already started.

According to Farmer, that work allows all of UL’s athletic-complex buildings to have their own power source — something requisite before major demolition could begin, anyway.

“We started what we could,” he said.

“What they did,” Farmer added, “will make this go faster.”

The biggest factor slowing demolition, however, was UL’s decision to increase the budget for Tigue renovation by about $6 million.

“Yes,” Farmer said, “we got into a situation where the original construction budget was $10 million.

“We couldn’t necessarily get exactly what we wanted for $10 million, so the budget grew to $16 (million) to get everything that we wanted.”

Just what does that extra $6 million buy?

For starters, Farmer said, “We’re getting a cement-type of stadium instead of all just aluminum.”

Additionally: “We’re getting decks behind the first-base and the third-base bleachers that we were not able to do at the $10 million mark,” he said.

That’s not all.

Seating capacity still is expected to be about the same 800 more than the stadium’s previous 3,775, and the count of new suites is still at 10.

But Farmer mentioned everything from “nicer amenities” in the suites, a “bigger and nicer” club level, better restrooms and concession area to even a space for “Mr. Vic,” The Tigue’s popular peanut salesman.

Before committing to the full $16 million, however, the Cajuns had to come up with a way to pay for it all.

According to Farmer, they currently have raised about $8.6 million in funds — some of which is pledged and will be spread out over time.

That includes $5 million from major donor Chris Russo, who earlier this year was named in a lawsuit filed a Harris County, Texas, civil court that accuses him of business-related fraud.

Russo already has donated $3 million, and the Cajuns still expect to receive the additional $2 million.

“Chris Russo pledged $5 million to this project,” Farmer said Thursday, “and he is current on the pledge. … I have no reason to believe it’s not going to be a fulfilled pledged.”

Even at $8.6 million, however, the gap to $16 million is a huge one.

“So we had to either, A: stop the project and finish the fundraising, or B: secure some other type (of financing),” Farmer said. “We looked at about seven different processes, and we ended on this bridge loan.”

MidSouth Bank is the lender for the loan, which was not revealed publicly until late last week, and according to Farmer it permits the Cajuns to borrow up to $10 million.

Securing it, though, was no simple process.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Farmer said. “It doesn’t happen as easily as you can go down there and say, ‘Hey, I want to borrow that money,’ and you sign a piece of paper and you walk away.

“You’re dealing with a government entity, and all the approvals that have to take place, and all the safeguards, and then you have a very large bridge loan.

“And the bank has its rules and its regulations, and the two groups, they worked their tails off to get this done, to be quite honest with you,” the Cajun athletic director added. “I am very proud of, and pleased for, the people that did roll up their sleeves and get it done.”

On UL’s side, Farmer said the Ragin’ Cajun Athletic Foundation (RCAF), UL Lafayette Foundation and Ragin’ Cajun Facilities Corp. all were involved, with lawyers “working nights, working weekends.”

“A phenomenal amount of time went into getting this thing signed, sealed and delivered,” Farmer said.

Nevetheless…

“You don’t want to do the major demolition,” Farmer said, “until you are 100 percent sure you’ve got everything signed.”