GRAND FORKS -- UND has received initial approval from a State Board of Higher Education committee to tear down Memorial Stadium.

The board’s budget and finance committee voted unanimously, 3-0, to authorize UND to proceed with demolition and associated site restoration. However, board member Casey Ryan cautioned UND officials to be prepared for the potential community reaction to the decision, which the Herald first reported this spring.

“Obviously, it’s been a landmark in Grand Forks with a lot of memories for a lot of people,” Ryan said. “My only question is, have you done the PR good enough so you don’t have to waste a lot of time and waste higher ed board time with people complaining about the removal of a stadium that needs to be removed?”

Mike Pieper, associate vice president of facilities, said there has been some positive coverage surrounding the decision, including an editorial in the Grand Forks Herald. Pieper said the university already has met with state and local historical officials on-site.

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“I think our visions are aligned with how to honor that site and the building that was there,” he said. “I can't say that there won't be some outcry. But we've been very open and public about our plans and our conversations. So, I think it's gone better than expected.”

Ryan said because the Herald now is printed two times a week and due to the ongoing pandemic, the news may not have reached some people yet.

“I would just caution you that you may have to have a plan to get out in front of the negativity you're going to see,” Ryan said. “I hope it isn’t there but I have a feeling it will be there.”

Built in 1927 as a memorial to members of the UND community who died during World War I, the 10,000-seat Memorial Stadium was home to UND football games until 2001, when games were moved to the Alerus Center. The university describes the stadium as “vacant surplus space.”

The request will go to the full board next week.

In 2016, a facility condition assessment that showed there was $8.3 million in capital renewal needs for the building.

UND estimates it will save $200,000 annually by no longer operating the building. In addition, UND says it can potentially generate new ground lease revenue.

UND is making plans for a possible late spring or early summer exit for UND coaches and locker room space from Memorial Stadium, with offices moving to Starcher Hall and the locker room moving to the Hyslop.

The committee also gave UND the go-ahead to move forward with construction of the new Nistler business college. The approval was requested so the university could move forward with the bonding process for the building.

Werner and Colleen Nistler have donated the lead gift of $20 million toward the construction of the new building, which is estimated to cost $70 million. The North Dakota Legislature during the last session voted to match the Nistlers' $20 million donation if the university was able to raise the additional money.