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America’s football stadiums come with nicknames like The Death Star, The Big House and Death Valley. They sound cool and intimidating, but they also sound expensive. And that’s exactly what Temple doesn’t want.

As the university takes its first steps toward building an on-campus stadium, price is an issue, perhaps more so than for other universities. Unlike many of them, Temple is not the only game in town. It has an NFL-caliber stadium a few miles south on Broad Street it can use for a couple million dollars a year. The university must also contend with nearby residents who’d rather see the Owls play at Lincoln Financial Field than have regular booze-and-traffic-fueled football weekends disrupt their neighborhood.

With those things in mind, Temple has said it will stay thrifty. The Board of Trustees, in its authorization to pursue a stadium, limited the amount the university would spend for a stadium at $130M, and president Neil Theobald estimated the cost at $126M (it had first been estimated at $100 million).

That’s a lot of money, but for a football stadium it’s on the relatively low end. NFL teams — and the cities they convince to foot the bill — spend $1 billion for their homes, and college football teams the last few years have been spending anywhere from $45 million to nearly $300 million.

Is $130 million possible for building such an enormous structure in a city environment? It’s going to come down to the market, making the most of expensive East Coast labor and the size and amenities of the stadium Temple wants.

The latter appears to be very much up in the air at this point. A design study hasn’t been completed yet, and the university just hired architects AECOM and Moody Nolan in late March.

Temple spokesperson Ray Betzner said the university’s cost estimate comes from input from experts and a cost study of several universities’ stadiums, most prominently Tulane University and the University of Houston. Those schools, like Temple, are members of the American Athletic Conference and built stadiums in urban environments. Both stadiums opened in 2014. Tulane’s cost about $75 million. The University of Houston’s cost about $128 million.      

When Joel Maxcy heard Temple’s first estimate of $100 million and even its more recent estimate of $126 million, he was skeptical. He’s a professor of sports management at Drexel — formerly at Temple — and studied college football stadium costs in a paper titled “Reversal of Fortune or Glaring Misallocation: Is a New Football Stadium Worth the Cost to a University?” At Temple, Maxcy sees comparisons being made to Houston and can’t imagine how Temple could do the same for a similar price because of increased costs of materials — especially labor in Philadelphia.    

Some of the trades involved in construction of a stadium can be twice as expensive in Philly as in Houston, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The mean hourly wage for cement masons and concrete finishers in Philly, for instance, is $30.80, compared to $15.21 in Houston. For construction laborers, it’s $19.17 vs. $14.99. A construction manager who works in the Northeast once told, “It’s what it costs to get projects approved and permitted, street and lane closure fees — fees for everything – as well as all the different levels of consultants that get added to these kinds of challenging projects. There are layers of costs, layers of inefficiencies that the rest of the country doesn’t experience, and there’s a premium associated with all of that.”

Maxcy estimates the construction and union costs of Philadelphia could put the project at something closer $200 million rather than $126 million.    

That’s bothered me ever since they started putting it out there,” he said. “To me that’s not a realistic number.”

Betzner said Temple is familiar with labor costs given recent projects like its new $170 million library and $200 million residence hall.

“For us to tell you exactly what construction labor costs are going to be per person, we don’t have the design charge yet as far as that,” he said. “We have estimates based on our experience and other experiences.”

Don Barnum, principal of DLR group and the project manager for Houston’s TDECU stadium, said a replica of TDECU in Philadelphia would cost more than in Houston. But that doesn’t mean Temple couldn’t build a stadium for $130 million or less. There are several decisions a university and architects can make to keep a stadium’s cost down.

Maybe the most obvious is size. When square footage goes up, the price generally follows. NFL stadiums can exceed 1 million square feet in size, and some college stadiums come close. Baylor’s McLane Stadium, which cost $266 million and was completed in 2014, has a square footage of 860,000. Houston’s TDECU Stadium is 415,000 square feet in size.

Capacity makes less of a difference. Temple says it wants a 35,000-seat stadium, but the price could vary depending on how much of those seats will be for club-level or premium suites that cost much more to construct than regular seats or even bleachers.

“You could have a 20,000 seat stadium,” Barnum said, “that costs $100 million or $200 million.”

The capacity of Tulane’s stadium is 30,000, but the actual number of seats is about a couple thousand lower. One of the ways its architects kept costs low was by constructing fewer brick-and-mortar seating and food areas and making spaces for standing room fans and mobile concession units.

“The social spaces can make up the differences,” said Robert Riccardi, principal at Gould Evans and the architect for Tulane’s Yulman Stadium. “You don’t have to buy a seat to watch the game anymore.”

When it comes to stadium size, construction materials and strategies and premium seating, Temple has plenty of choice. It has no control over the market.

The last few years of the recession stadium costs were lower than they probably should have been because a lack of projects left design, architecture and construction companies in search of work. North Texas began planning its stadium in 2008, and it was completed in 2011. Its athletic department estimated the final cost of about $80 million could have been closer to $140 million were it not for the recession. To a lesser extent, even the University of Houston and Tulane benefitted from a down market. Temple won’t have the same luck.    

“We’re seeing an escalation of price,” Barnum said, “because people are getting busy.”

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...