Western Washington University's decision on Thursday, Jan. 8, to cut its football program will impact more than just the college and its student- athletes.
The decision will also have an economic impact on the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department, the Bellingham Central Lions Club, and lodging and tourism in the area, among other things.
"It's going to impact us financially for sure," Parks director Paul Leuthold said. "Losing the football program means we're going to lose some of our revenue."
Last year, WWU paid about $8,850 dollars to rent Civic Stadium from the city for its three home games and a handful of practices, Leuthold said. For 2009, the Vikings had already scheduled five home games and expected to add a sixth when the announcement to cut the program was made.
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"It shouldn't be that hard to find a high school to fill that time," Leuthold said. "Everybody uses Civic and they are always looking for times to play there. But we were able to charge Western a little more because they required greater service than the high-school events."
More concerning for the city than the lost rental revenue is the potential for WWU to now back out of contract the school signed a few years ago to help pay for capital-improvement projects at the Civic Sports Complex. Western agreed to pay $40,000 a year over a 20-year span to help offset some of the cost of the major renovations the facility underwent beginning in 2006. That money came on top of the one-time amounts WWU paid to improve the press box and the locker rooms.
"There is a clause in that contract that allows them to back out if their situations changes or they drop athletic programs," Leuthold said. "They'll still be using the facility for soccer and track and field, so hopefully they will honor that commitment they made."
When asked on Thursday, Jan. 8, whether WWU would have elected not to commit the funds to improve Civic Stadium if the administration had known three years ago it would be dropping its football program, athletic director Lynda Goodrich said nothing would have changed.
"We'll still be using Civic for some of our events and that was an investment we made in the community," Goodrich said in a phone interview. "We've always wanted to be considered good neighbors."
The Bellingham Central Lions Club could also take a hit in the pocketbook with the departure of WWU football. Selling concessions at Civic Stadium during sporting events is a main fundraiser for the club, president Stan Heimburger said. Though the Lions make more at high school games than at Western games, it's still going to make a difference.
"It will have an impact," Heimburger said in a phone interview. "Civic Field is our single biggest fundraiser and not having Western football there anymore is just one more thing we won't have. It won't be as significant as if high school football was cancelled, but we'll feel it."
Leuthold said above all else his heart goes out to the players and coaches involved.
"I feel bad for those players," Leuthold said. "They are the ones who are really hurt by all this. Really, what's better than college football in the fall? Now we don't have that anymore."
Reach Joe Sunnen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 756-2862.