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Miami unveils plans for $34 million football facility on Friday

Miami announced plans for a new $34 million indoor football facility and football operations center Friday in South Florida, as well as the largest donation in the history of the school's athletic department.

The Soffer family, known for real estate development in South Florida, pledged $14 million toward the project, which has gained support and momentum since Mark Richt was hired as coach in December. The facility will feature an 81,800-square-foot indoor practice field and 20,000-square-foot football operations center that will house coaches' offices on a mezzanine level, team meeting rooms, position meeting rooms and a recruiting suite.

The facility will be built over the existing turf practice field Miami uses, just next to the grass practice fields, and will connect to the current weight room in the Hecht Athletic Center, along with the locker room in the Schwartz Center for Academic Excellence. The turf field goes only 80 yards because of space limitations, but there will also be a 40-yard spillover field included in the building.

Athletic director Blake James has discussed building an indoor football facility since he was hired in 2013. Not only is there a need in South Florida with the rain and lightning that is so prevalent in the area, Miami is among the only schools in the country without an indoor facility.

"Today we take yet another step forward in continuing our mission of Building Champions at the University of Miami," James said in a statement. "The generosity of Carol Soffer's children and others enables us to build one of the finest football facilities in the nation, which will serve the needs of our football program and all our student-athletes for years to come. We are forever grateful to Jeffrey, and Carol's other children for their support of and passion for UM Athletics."

Richt, a Miami alum, was instrumental in making the project happen once he arrived. He and his wife, Katharyn, donated $1 million to help make the project a reality.

"An indoor practice facility means a great deal to this football program," Richt said in a statement. "I am grateful that the University and the Department of Athletics recognized the need for an indoor facility and worked tirelessly to make it happen. I can't thank the Soffer Family enough for their contribution and helping us bring this project to fruition. We appreciate Carol's generous and deeply committed support of Miami Hurricane Athletics."

While previous ideas centered on building the indoor football facility only, Richt wanted to include an operations center as well -- similar to a plan he pushed through while he was coach at Georgia. He even sketched out drawings himself with his vision for how it would look.

Fundraising for the project began in May through a private campaign. Miami already has $24 million pledged but cannot begin to break ground until all the money is raised. School officials hope going public with their fundraising efforts will bring in the rest of the money needed to begin the project.

Once the money is raised, the university will begin going through the permitting process with the city of Coral Gables. The school already has an architect, but it must also bring in a construction company as well.

The project is expected to take 14 to 18 months to complete, with a target goal to open in summer 2018. It would be the largest project for the athletic department since the $48 million BankUnited Center opened in 2003. Carol Soffer, the family matriarch, will be the namesake on the Carol Soffer Football Indoor Practice Facility.