Despite plans, student fees used to pay off Brent Brown Ballpark
Photo by Sarah Sanchez
UVU envisioned a baseball stadium on its campus dating back to its state college (UVSC) days in 1998. The ballpark would seat 2,500 people and accommodate another 2,500 on grass berms, serving as a catalyst for UVSC baseball’s leap to Division I status and a symbol of the growth the institution was experiencing.
Utah County businessman Gary Brinton stepped in and pledged $750,000 for the stadium construction and naming rights in 1999. It was reported that, as part of the deal, Brinton had the option of building the stadium with his own construction company and counting it as an in-kind donation. Two years later, though, he found himself in bankruptcy court and the deal with UVSC was off. A memorandum that was sent to the State Board of Regents in December 2003 stated that planning for the project was postponed when it was apparent Brinton’s donation was not going to come.
The memorandum states that UVSC had since acquired new sources of private funding for the stadium and was looking to move forward with construction. Utah County had informally agreed to advance the college cash to fund the construction costs and the college would repay “using donations and operating revenues from the stadium.” The document also specifies that a portion of the expected lease payments from Minor League Baseball’s Provo Angels to use the park would be “reserved for repayment to Utah County.”
In total, $2.7 million in donations had been committed and another $500,000 of donations was expected. Parkway Crossing, now known as Wolverine Crossing, accounted for a large portion of the donation total when it signed an agreement for 10 years and $1.7 million for the naming rights of the stadium.
Richard Kendall, former commissioner of the Utah System of Higher Education, addressed the State Board of Regents May 26, 2004 through two more memoranda, the first of which stated that Utah County had decided the most appropriate form of loan would be through municipal bonds used to raise the funds. It was proposed the 2004 bonds would also be used to refund earlier bonds issued to the college, including one to upgrade the Student Center, and one from 1999 that was used to purchase what is now the Extended Education Building.
Although Utah County would issue the bonds, to guarantee the most favorable bond rating, revenue from the UVSC fee system would be used as security for the bonds. Even though the new 2004 bonds would be secured by student fees, it was anticipated that most of the bond repayment would be through promised donations.
Aside from the Parkway Crossing deal, “Funds have also been pledged by Orem City and Utah County, and in-kind donations have been received from several local businesses,” the 2004 memorandum stated. “We have held discussions with representatives of legislative leadership, who are pleased with the level of private donations which have been pledged, and are comfortable with the proposed plan for a financing partnership with local government.”
A bond issued, a stadium built
Utah County’s Municipal Bonding Authority issued two bonds Aug. 3, 2004 that gave UVSC $3.9 million for construction of the stadium and $2.6 million to pay off the existing debt related to the 1999 bonds. In return, the college would make payments through 2019 on the stadium bond totaling about $6 million with principal and interest.
The grand opening of the ballpark came in the spring of 2005 with the stadium being referred to as Parkway Crossing Stadium. However, no signage indicating the naming rights was displayed. The scheduled payments due from Parkway Crossing never came, and another large donor had defaulted.
By 2007, UVSC had found a new taker for the naming rights of the stadium. Brent Brown, the owner of several car dealerships, signed a 10-year, $1 million deal that summer for it to become Brent Brown Ballpark.
Ira Fulton, an Arizona developer and philanthropist, was credited at the time for matching Brown’s donation to bring the sum of donations to $2 million. WolverineGreen.com reads that the money was “to help pay the bond for the stadium.”
Linda Makin, vice president of planning, budgeting and human relations at UVU, was quoted in the Deseret News at the time saying Brown’s donation, and the subsequent matching donation from Fulton, “does take the pressures off.”
Val Peterson, UVU’s vice president of finance and administration, also was quoted by the Daily Herald in 2007 as saying, “This is the missing piece to the fundraising plan. Now it’s funded.” Additionally, then-president of UVSC William Sederburg told The Review that the naming rights should help ease the students’ burden but not completely alleviate the situation.
But, according to Peterson, all the money received from Brown has been given to the UVU Foundation, which is used to fund scholarships, develop curriculum and to otherwise support the university. Brown said he hoped that his money would go toward forwarding higher education in the Provo area but acknowledged UVU could decide how his money was to be used.
Fulton, who was credited for matching Brown’s million dollars, never followed through. According to Peterson, Fulton agreed to match any donation given to the university but since Brown’s money fell under a sponsorship designation, that voided any agreement between the real estate magnate and UVSC.
Records show that Brown, who signed the deal in July 2007, made monthly payments totaling $300,000 through June 2010, in line with the contract. However, on July 1 of that year, the contract was amended to change the total from $1 million to $804,000 over the 10-year life of the contract. Brown confirmed the nearly $200,000 difference was due to cash-flow issues. When asked why UVU modified the contract instead of reopening negotiations with other suitors, Peterson said the university wanted to avoid a third consecutive default on the naming rights contract and work things out with Brown.
Student Fees on the hook
The Review discussed Brown’s current agreement with Peterson and inquired how much of his money had gone toward the stadium financing bond. Peterson was initially unsure how the bond was being paid, but later said the annual payment due, which is $388,350 in 2017, is covered entirely by student fees, and has been since the stadium bond was issued in 2004.
Peterson also said that none of the revenue from the lease agreement with the Orem Owlz, formerly the Provo Angles, is being allocated toward the bond. Minutes from a Board of Trustees meeting at UVSC in February 2004 state that “VP [Peterson] said the college would receive $28-30,000 a year in revenue towards the bond” from the Provo Angels.
The Owlz’s most recent agreement, a 10-year lease which was inked in 2012, calls for $48,400 to be paid annually to UVU until 2018. After that, the Owlz are obligated to pay $55,560 a year.
Alexis Palmer, the dean of students, was unaware student fee funds were being directed to the baseball stadium. A rundown of the 2017 Spring semester’s fees shows that $94.09 of the money in fees paid by each student will go toward building bonds. That money is used to cover payments for three bonds itemized in the allocation report as the Sorensen Student Center and the Student Life and Wellness Center. The baseball stadium is not specifically listed in the report.
Student Body President Birch Eve was not immediately aware of student fee money being used to pay for the stadium. He later said via e-mail that he could not confirm student fees were being used.
“In the minutes from previous student fee hearings and this year’s presentations, the only bonds that were reported on were the SLWC and Student Center,” Eve said.
Swen Swenson, the student body president of UVSC for the 2003-04 school year, doesn’t recall a meeting where student fee money was designated to cover the yearly payments for the stadium. Dylan Swarts, the student body president for the 2015-16 school year, was also unaware of any student fees going toward Brent Brown Ballpark.
The Review was unable to find minutes of any meeting where financing of the stadium bond was presented before student government or student fees were designated to fund it.
The closest thing found were minutes of UVSC Board of Trustees meetings from March 18 and April 8, 2004 in which the debt restructures and financing of the stadium bond was up for approval. No mention of student fees was made in the documents.
Peterson commented via email, “We have always worked with student leaders and student government in developing our student fees. … We have always reported on this bond at the student fee hearings and it has always been included in the University’s financials.”
As for the media coverage and Peterson’s statements in 2007 suggesting that Brown’s money would be used for the bond, Peterson said he did not recall discussions at the time, but that the funds have mainly gone toward student scholarships and the Latino Initiative.
Brown’s contract will expire June 30, 2017 and the university has already begun discussions with potential buyers of the ballpark’s naming rights. Brown said he has yet to be contacted by UVU but looks forward to the conversation. The stadium sits just north of University Parkway and two exits from Interstate-15, making it one of the most-trafficked intersections in the state of Utah. With large impression numbers, UVU hopes to earn a considerable payday on the new deal and prove Brown’s current agreement a steal.
Peterson said the university does not anticipate directing the proceeds from the new sponsorship deal toward the remaining stadium bond payments that are due through 2019.
Ty Bianucci is a life-long fan of the San Francisco Giants, 49ers and Golden State Warriors who started on the sports beat for The Review, but now contributes investigative stories. He, along with two of his colleagues, were awarded the Sunshine Award in 2018 by the Society of Professional Journalists.