By Steve Rivera
McKale Center has been a gem in the desert, the home of The University of Arizona men’s basketball program.
But even gems need to be polished every now and again to shine brightly.
Now is that time. UA officials will spend $30 million in the short term and $80 million over three construction phases to give the 41-year-old arena a facelift.
The $30 million for Phase 1 “will take care of some of the fan amenities that we need and a lot of the student-athlete issues,” said VP for Athletics Greg Byrne.
The student-athlete amenities include locker rooms, lounges and academic accommodations. The fan amenities are new seats and handrails, expanded and improved concessions and restrooms.
You can almost hear the fans cheering now.
“It may look like a completely different building at some point,” Byrne said, “but we’re a long ways away from that.”
In the meantime, Arizona unveiled a lavish – and massive – scoreboard above Lute & Bobbi Olson Court in January. The high-definition screens, measuring 12-by-19 feet, are 25 percent larger than the previous video boards. UA players often glance up to see themselves dunk in the replays.
The new McKale Center scoreboard, as well as the huge screen installed at Arizona Stadium before the 2012 season, are part of Byrne’s vision to improve the fan experience at a time when watching games on TV at home is an increasingly popular option.
By early April, Byrne expects to have the $30 million needed to complete Phase 1, which is scheduled for completion before the next basketball season.
“We’re making good progress,” Byrne said of incoming donations. “We have more than $25 million as of February so I’m not satisfied until we get there. We still need people to get involved and help.”
The biggest help has come from Tucsonans Cole and Jeannie Davis, who committed $6 million to help start the project and lure more funding. The Davises have gifted $10 million to the athletic program and facilities, including the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium.
“Jeannie and I were so impressed with Sean Miller and his vision for where Arizona basketball was headed,” Cole said of their first meeting with the men’s basketball coach. “Now, four years later, we’ve seen the results of that vision and we’re excited to be supporting a program that can compete for championships.
“It’s important for men’s basketball to be as competitive as possible for the overall health of the athletics department. Our hope is that by helping to strengthen our basketball programs, we can have a positive impact on all student-athletes at Arizona, which in turn, will help them not only have a great experience while in school, but will prepare them to become leaders once their playing days are over.”
Gymnastics and volleyball teams also compete in McKale.
Arizona quickly approached its Phase 1 goal through numerous donations, including several of at least $1 million. It was helped by the announcement that an anonymous donor would match donations up to $8 million.
In helping to reach its goal, Arizona received $2.5 million from an anonymous donor, $1 million from the Donald Diamond family and $800,000 from former UA player George Rountree.
“Athletics plays a vital role in the visibility of our campus and is a major part of the UA’s contributions to the life of our community,” UA President Ann Weaver Hart said. “I want to thank those who have come forward to support this project.”
Arizona won’t stop until it gets there.
“We’ve got a great development team and have done a great job of identifying prospects,” Byrne said. “We’re going to work hard to make this thing a reality.”