The University of Arizona launched the final phase of the largest fundraising campaign in its history Friday and started things off with a bang.

Fireworks popped overhead as President Ann Weaver Hart rolled out the public portion of a drive to finish raising $1.5 billion over the next four years.

The money will help pay for a new engineering facility, for upgrades to Old Main and the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and for scholarships, research and other programs to further modernize the state’s oldest university.

The UA has dubbed the effort the “Arizona Now” campaign.

“The University of Arizona has a very bright future ahead,” Hart, flanked by UA mascots Wilbur and Wilma Wildcat, told a crowd assembled on the UA Mall for the fundraising announcement, in conjunction with Spring Fling.

“We believe this campaign will have a huge impact not just in Arizona but the world as the university extends its reach,” the president said.

Raising 10 figures through donations may seem a lofty goal for UA, but it’s not unheard of.

The school did it before with a fundraising drive called Campaign Arizona that ended in 2005. In that case, it took eight years to reach the $1 billion target.

This campaign could take about nine years in all, including the last five years in which UA raised $857 million of the $1.5 billion total during the campaign’s “quiet phase.”

The $857 million figure was achieved by rolling in the donations the UA has been receiving for numerous projects such as renovations to Old Main, McKale Center and Bear Down Gymnasium.

That leaves another $640 million or so still to be raised — an average of $160 million a year over four years.

That’s several million a year more than UA normally raises. Between 2009 and 2013, for example, it averaged about $153 million a year in donations.

Hart recently told the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s universities, that the need for philanthropic dollars has never been greater, given the state funding cuts the UA has faced over the last several years.

It has weathered more than $180 million in cuts since 2008, and a new budget signed Friday by Gov. Jan Brewer did not include millions in extra money the UA sought this year for research and innovation projects.

“While the significantly lower allocation of state funds for the UA is certainly a setback, it will not deter us,” Hart said in a news release shortly before the fundraising event.

To the crowd assembled on the UA Mall on Friday, she offered a challenge.

“Let’s show what the Wildcat family is made of.”

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at or at 573-4138.