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A Bowl Game in Charleston?

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The state Senate's approval Wednesday of a budget that includes money for expanded seating at The Citadel's football stadium is a huge step in bringing a proposed college bowl game to Charleston, officials said.

"It's huge in this way," said Tommy McQueeney, chairman of the Charleston Metro Sports Council's bowl committee. "Without the state stepping up to do this, we know that the opportunity for this bowl game would have likely passed us by."

The state budget includes $380,000 a year for 15 years -- a total of $5.7 million -- for a stadium with enough seats for the Palmetto Bowl, which is proposed to debut in Charleston in December 2005.

Coupled with the $15 million The Citadel plans to raise to renovate Johnson Hagood Stadium, the state money means there is about $20.7 million available for building a stadium.The next step, McQueeney said, is deciding where the stadium will be built: Johnson Hagood Stadium or where Stoney Field now stands. That process involves The Citadel, the city of Charleston and local neighborhoods, McQueeney said.

"In my mind, the best potential site would be at Stoney Field," said McQueeney, who has been involved in The Citadel's fund-raising efforts. "But to get that done, there is still a lot of groundwork to cover. The Citadel and the city of Charleston will have to develop a plan to do that on their own and get that approved by their respective bodies. But time-wise, we are still in pretty good shape to get this done in time for not only the bowl game in 2005 but The Citadel's football season in 2005."

Citadel athletics director Les Robinson said the school's Board of Visitors will meet in about a week to consider the options.

"That's the next step," he said. "We know we are going to have a stadium, but where it's going to be is the next step. The city and the Sports Council have come to us with this proposal at Stoney Field, and our people are taking a good look at it."

The Citadel, which has knocked down the home side of 56-year-old Johnson Hagood Stadium, has been pursuing a "dual track" on stadium plans. It is proceeding with plans to renovate Johnson Hagood Stadium with 22,000 seats at a cost of about $15 million.

School officials are open to the Palmetto Bowl proposal, which would require a stadium with 35,000 seats. Such a stadium would cost from $28 million to $31 million for either an additional 13,000 seats at a renovated Johnson Hagood or a new 35,000-seat stadium.

"In general, this will be done in a two-phase plan," McQueeney said. "The Citadel will do its part to build a stadium to replace what they are losing in terms of seating. And we are looking for partners to build the other seating necessary."

McQueeney said one such partner at a new stadium could include a naming rights sponsor.

"That kind of closes the gap on the funding necessary to do it," he said. "It would take the funding risk out of what we are doing."

The proposed Palmetto Bowl, which would be broadcast on ESPN, would pit teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference and Conference USA. The ESPN proposal includes plans for a regular-season football game between two historically black colleges and a "military college" basketball doubleheader at The Citadel.

McQueeney said there also has been talk of moving the NCAA Division I-AA football championship game to a new stadium in Charleston. The earliest the NCAA could certify the proposed Palmetto Bowl is April, McQueeney said.

"That's assuming that everything works with ESPN, the NCAA and our stadium," he said. "There are still a lot of unknowns out there."

I copied this article from The Post and Courier:


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