Federal judge lets Kyle Field reseating process begin

An artist rendition of Kyle Field after its $485 million expansion
An artist rendition of Kyle Field after its $485 million expansion Courtesy photo

The process of redistributing seats as part of a $485 million expansion of Kyle Field at Texas A&M University began Monday after a federal judge denied a request by some loyal Aggie fans to block part of it.

In an order signed Saturday, U.S. District Judge Rodney Gilstrap said he was not persuaded that the plaintiffs’ complaint “meets the high bar” that granting a temporary restraining order and a permanent injunction requires.

Attorneys for three former students who contributed heavily to scholarship endowments filed suit last week in U.S. District Court in Marshall against the 12th Man Foundation, the nonprofit group that is overseeing the “reseating” at the stadium.

The lawsuit accuses the foundation of breaching commitments it made as far back as the 1970s in which donors who contributed tens of thousands of dollars were given, in return for their gifts, prime tickets at Kyle Field as well as highly coveted parking spaces near the stadium.

The attorneys are seeking class-action certification so they can ultimately represent about 450 endowments, or about 1,700 of the 102,500 seats in the stadium.

The plaintiffs wanted the judge to issue a temporary restraining order to “maintain the status quo” and prevent the foundation from redistributing their seats during the reseating program that runs through May.

But attorneys representing the 12th Man Foundation said in court documents filed on Friday that the plaintiffs have known about — and participated in — the reseating process for nearly two years but waited until three days before the reassignment was to begin to ask the court to stop it.

“In essence, three disgruntled donors are trying to hold all the donors hostage while they complain about their seats,” court documents stated. “Plaintiffs failure to sue after knowing about this dispute for months is telling.”

Attorneys representing the foundation also asked Gilstrap to dismiss the lawsuit since 97 percent of the proposed members of the class live in Texas, making it more of a local controversy.

Debra Brewer Hayes, an attorney representing the fans, said they were “very disappointed because we think these are unique seats and should have been exempted from the seating process.” She said they will continue to press their claim in federal court.

Mark Riordan, vice president of marketing and communications for the 12th Man Foundation, would not comment on the litigation but said the first phase of reseating will last until the end of May and that they are not “cranking through the appointments right now.”

The controversy over the endowments is decades old but ramped up in earnest in 2013 after Texas A&M announced it would give Kyle Field a facelift, boosting its seating capacity to 102,500 and making it the biggest stadium in the Southeastern Conference.

To help pay for the renovations, seat holders are expected to foot over half the bill through seat licenses. That triggered a massive reseating that has loyal fans, including Henry Holubec, a former executive director of the foundation, suing to stay where they are.

About 15 permanently endowed donors have sued the foundation in state district court over the reseating program. They include Warren Moore, who sued the organization in Tarrant County last week.

But in court documents filed Friday, the foundation said that as part of the Kyle Field redevelopment, the west side of the stadium where most of the endowed owners previously sat has been demolished and that a new structure, with arm-chair seating, will bear no resemblance to it. As a matter of fact, there will be 4,100 fewer seats on the west side.

Fans who paid tens of thousands of dollars for seats in the 1980s have said the reseating process would force them to spend hundreds of thousands more over the next 15 years to keep their prime seat locations in the new Kyle Field.

The foundation, to recognize those seat holders, is giving a $2,000 seating allowance starting this year and allowing them to pick a spot in the new stadium without owing additional money. If a fan wants to sit where more money is required, the $2,000 can be applied to that cost.

Nearly 99 percent of the endowed donors chose to use this credit to select seats in the new Kyle Field, court records state. The foundation in court records states it does not believe it would be fair, or prudent, to provide these upgraded benefits to the plaintiffs without an additional donation.

Max B. Baker, 817-390-7714

Twitter: @MaxBBaker