Iconic San Antonio businessman B.J. "Red" McCombs has been a major player on the local sports scene for more than 50 years.
That's why it was fitting that McCombs, 85, sat on the first seat of the front row Tuesday when UTSA broke ground for the first phase of its Park West Athletics Complex.
"This is one of those events that happens only once in a lifetime, and I just had to be here," McCombs said. "This is the groundbreaking of the real deal. Here we are Division I. This is a huge event.
"It identifies the city just like the Spurs did back when they first came here in 1973. This is the epitome of college sports, and D-I is where everybody would like to be. We're here."
The Park West facility, located about two miles west of UTSA's main campus, eventually will be the central site for all of the Roadrunners' athletic teams. The first phase, expected to be completed in the fall of 2013, includes construction of a track stadium and soccer stadium.
The complex is located on a portion of the 125-acre Park West tract, which was bought by UTSA five years ago, and will be built with funds raised through city and county bonds. Phase 1 of the project will cost about $22.1 million, UTSA officials have said.
Phase 2 of project will focus on football program
"With these facilities in place, there will be kids from throughout San Antonio, not just UTSA, using them," UTSA president Ricardo Romo said. "That was the whole idea. The new athletics complex will be a top-notch collegiate facility capable of hosting national and international tourist-destination events.
"This project is another example of how UTSA is transforming into a Tier One university with growth that we expect to positively impact San Antonio, so it remains competitive globally as a place where people want to visit, invest and do business."
Phase 2 of the project will concentrate on the fledgling UTSA football program, which has no practice facilities on campus. The Roadrunners, who kicked off their first season last year, will continue to play their home games at the Alamodome for the foreseeable future, but will eventually practice at the Park West facility.
The football team has practiced at nearby Farris Stadium, owned by the Northside Independent School District, since 2010. The practice facilities at Park West will include two fields and a 36,000-square foot locker room.
McCombs last year contributed $1 million to the fund that will be used to build the football practice facilities.
McCombs: UTSA football city's next big sports story
UTSA went 4-6 as an independent in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division I-AA, in its inaugural season. The Roadrunners are moving into the Western Athletic Conference this season. The WAC competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division I-A.
McCombs has said on several occasions that UTSA football "will be the next big story" in San Antonio sports.
"It's here already," McCombs said Tuesday.
San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, and William Eugene Powell, chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, were among dignitaries attending the ground-breaking ceremony.
"I've said before that I consider the city to be a servant to our universities," Castro said. "In this 21st century global economy, you'd be hard pressed to find institutions that are more valuable economically to a city than a university. The city of San Antonio is committed to building up a first-class Tier One university here at UTSA.
"We look forward to continuing that partnership. We look forward to the ribbon-cutting and to the many victories, to the applause, to the many children and families who are going to have an opportunity to have just a great time here at this multipurpose facility."