University Stadium may not have seen the last of Brian Urlacher after all.
One of the most famous names in New Mexico sports is part of a team being tapped to kickstart a “sports and entertainment” district at University of New Mexico’s South Campus.
Lobo Development Corp. announced Friday that it is negotiating with 54 Development LLC on a proposed 27,000-square-foot, mixed-use project in the parking lot immediately west of University Stadium. UNM describes 54 Development as a partnership between local developer Paul Silverman and prolific businessman Steven B. Chavez – whose interests include WisePies Pizza & Salad – in collaboration with Urlacher. The former Lobo linebacker wore the No. 54 jersey for the Chicago Bears.
No agreement has been formalized and any contract and terms remain subject to approval by LDC’s board and the UNM Board of Regents, but university President Bob Frank said Friday that the parties already have had successful discussions and that things are “moving along quite well.”
Lobo Development’s decision to work toward an agreement with 54 Development comes after a failed attempt to ink a deal with Marble Brewery for a restaurant/taproom/entertainment project on the same parcel. Progress on that plan came to a halt in May when the parties couldn’t agree to terms on a ground lease for the land.
“We thought (Marble’s) original proposal was very exciting. … We had long conversations with them, but after a fairly detailed set of conversations, we just couldn’t reach a conclusion that was satisfying to them and satisfying to us,” Frank told the Journal in an interview Friday. “Then we turned to 54 Development and had very positive conversations so far. We’re now going into the second phase of conversations with them, and we’re very encouraged by what’s happened so far. We think this is a very auspicious beginning.”
According to UNM, 54 Development’s proposal includes construction of a 10,000-square-foot “54 Sports Grill,” and might also incorporate other restaurants, a craft brewery, a coffee shop and some sports-themed retail.
Silverman told the Journal the project will include a WisePies location, though other specifics haven’t been determined.
Silverman, who has an extensive development background that includes the current Downtown grocery store project, said he’s excited about the possibilities. He said he has studied similar sports-entertainment developments around the country, including projects near Arizona State University, the 76ers’ arena in Philadelphia and the Cardinals’ stadium in St. Louis.
He sees the stadium project as a way to spur activity in the area beyond UNM sporting events and also to meet growing demand from the surrounding residential community.
“It’s a very interesting real estate opportunity that doesn’t come along very often,” he said.
Silverman and Frank say Urlacher’s involvement lends the proposed project cachet that should serve it well.
“I think him being part of it will make people curious about it; it will help with the business,” Frank said. “I think it’s a positive thing all around.”
Urlacher, who grew up in Lovington, NM, played for UNM from 1996-99, earning All-America honors in 1999. He then headed to the NFL, where he made eight Pro Bowls during his 13-year run with the Chicago Bears. The Lobos retired his number in 2013.
Lobo Development Corp. – a private, nonprofit corporation affiliated with UNM and created to diversify the school’s revenue stream – will work with 54 Development on a ground lease for the property. Any terms would still require approval by LDC’s board and the regents.
Because the project isn’t a done deal, Silverman – whose group would pay for the new construction – said he doesn’t yet know exactly how much the project might ultimately cost.
“At its smallest, it’s somewhere in the $6 million range, but it could grow,” he said.
Frank said that 54 Development was among the original respondents when the school issued a request for proposals for the Stadium West site late last year but the group had since refined its plans.
Asked whether WisePies’ existing relationship with the university – the pizzeria company bought naming rights to the school’s basketball arena, the Pit, in 2014 in a $5 million, 10-year payout – had anything to do with this group’s selection, Frank said “not necessarily.”
“It had to do with the fact that this group came forward with a good proposal,” he added. “The more we talked to them, the more refined the proposal has become, and it’s become a very competitive proposal in our minds. With Paul Silverman, the development person, and Steve, and the team they’ve put together and the people they’ve brought into the conversation since they first talked to us, it’s become an extremely thoughtful proposal, and we’re very positive about it at this point.”
Frank, who is a member of the LDC board, said the corporation would proceed carefully through negotiations with 54 Development “to make sure we do everything right” – including terms that would best preserve access to the stadium and the Pit. He said it’s possible ground could be broken as early as this fall.
The project could consume about 230 of 856 total parking spaces in that lot, UNM spokeswoman Dianne Anderson said. Frank said the university is considering opportunities to add parking elsewhere in the vicinity.