The only thing that would have been more fitting as the University of Miami unveiled its plans Friday for its long-awaited football indoor practice facility — and the name of the billionaire and his mother whose name it will bear — would have been a torrential downpour and lightning storm as the news conference began.
Finally, after two years of being “No. 1’’ on athletic director Blake James’ priority list, the plans for the “Carol Soffer Football Indoor Practice Facility” were released publicly at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, which not coincidentally, is primarily owned by the family of billionaire Jeffrey Soffer.
Soffer, a prominent South Florida real estate developer and philanthropist, is married to and was accompanied by former Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Elle Macpherson. He is having the indoor facility named in honor of his mother Carol, who has been a huge UM football fan and athletics donor for more than 20 years. Soffer and his siblings made a $14 million commitment to the $34 million project that has raised $24 million to date.
UM athletic director Blake James is counting on public donations to fill out the remaining $10 million needed to begin construction within what he hopes will be the next 18 months, and then finish the building by August 2018.
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“There’s more work to be done,’’ James said at the by-invitation-only event. We need everyone who loves and U and bleeds orange and green to help reach our goal. The project will not go forward until we have commitments for the full cost.’’
By Friday night, UM’s hurricanesfootballfacility.com “U Building Champions’ Football Facility Campaign” website was up and running.
The 81,000-square-foot facility, according to UM’s release, “will feature two field-turf fields — one 80 yards long and an additional 40-yard field directly connecting to the Squillante Strength and Conditioning Center.’’
The indoor practice facility will be located on the current football practice area and will be connected to the Hecht Athletic Center and the Schwartz Center for Athletic Excellence.
“The project includes a 20,000-square-foot-football operations center with a mezzanine level that will house all of the football coaches’ office space with views overlooking the indoor fields,’’ the release said. “The football center will also feature six position meeting rooms, a head coach’s suite, three coaches’ conference rooms, a first-class football recruiting suite complete with lounges and meeting rooms, as well as a state-of-the-art video center.’’
Hurricanes Coach Mark Richt, who spoke at the event along with quarterback Brad Kaaya, has been a big reason the fundraising soared, making it a priority since spring practice and donating $1 million toward the project. Hurricanes’ practices are often plagued by lightning delays that accompany rain storms, forcing cancellations or the team to go to work out at the Wellness Center on campus.
Even UM Pro Day in March, when the Canes’ NFL prospects work out for pro scouts and coaches, was significantly impacted, and then cut short, by a rain storm.
“It was sad, really,’’ Richt said back then, adding Friday that he already has asked the Miami Dolphins to have next year’s Pro Day in their indoor bubble. “I’m very happy, very excited, very thankful for the Soffer family. Obviously Carol’s love for the program has been huge, and Jeff’s love for his mother has been huge.’’
Soffer said she was completely proud of being a woman whose name will grace a major football program facility. “It has always been a boys’ club in college athletics and it will be so nice to see a woman’s name up there,’’ she told the Miami Herald a few minutes after addressing the crowd that included UM trustees, boosters, coaches and administrators.
“This is a very exciting moment for me and my family,’’ Carol Soffer said. “I am a very passionate fan of the University of Miami. My family has always been involved in the life of this community.’’
Jeffrey Soffer, who conceded he has never been to a UM football game but will attend one soon, said it was an honor for the family “to do something like this’’ for his mother. “I love you, mom,’’ he said.
Miami is one of the only FBS programs in the nation, and the only Atlantic Coast Conference school, not to have an indoor facility.
UM president Julio Frenk publicly spoke of his excitement for the project and told reporters afterward that he was “very happy” Richt, a UM graduate, is back at his alma mater. “Coach Richt is not just a great athletics coach, but he’s a man of such values that he’s brought a great amount of energy and inspiration.’’
Said Kaaya, whose bone bruise of his left knee has an extra week to heal because this is an open weekend for UM before it travels to play Georgia Tech next Saturday: “It is awesome to actually get out and see the Hurricane Club members and meet the Soffer family. In years past, people talked about the Board of Trustees, our alumni, our boosters. It all just sounds like up there somwhere in some castle, some secret meeting room.
“It’s nice to actually meet them and know they have our back and are giving their full support to us. It’s a great day.’’