Connecting the Dots
By Chip Rogers
Jan. 3, 2003
For over 30 years University Hall has served as the proud home of the Cavalier basketball programs. Built in 1965 at a cost of $4 million, “U-Hall” has housed all of the components of the Virginia athletic program at one time or another. In recent years it has been the site of “Hooville,” as hundreds of students have camped out for weeks prior to games, showing their support of the Hoos.
With the groundswell of support in recent years and a consistent overflow crowd packing into U-Hall, the University realized that a new arena was a necessity.
In 1998 the University’s Board of Visitors, at the urging of President John T. Casteen, III, gave officials the green light to pursue a replacement for University Hall. The planning committee determined that the best place for the new home of Cavalier basketball would be across Massie Road from University Hall, but a $120 million price tag seemed to indicate that a daunting, but not impossible task, still lay ahead.
Then, on June 15, 2001, an anonymous $20 million donation fell into the University’s coffers earmarked for the construction of a new arena. The second-largest gift ever presented to the University’s athletic program represented approximately one-third of the core funding that was necessary to start the project, and it was a significant jump-start to the new arena. “This extraordinary commitment is wonderful news for men’s and women’s basketball,” said Casteen in a statement. “The need for a new facility is clear.”
A month later the University approved the selection of VMDO Architects, P. C. of Charlottesville as the primary architect and Ellerbe Becket of Minneapolis as the design consultant. “My vision is that UVa. athletics will become the place to be,” said Virginia director of athletics Craig Littlepage. “The new arena is a critical part of that vision. It will be a University special events center, something that will be valuable to not only the University community but also to the people of the region. The arena will serve as a venue not only for the University’s basketball games but also a host of major events.”
The project received another big boost when in October of 2001, University alumnus Paul Tudor Jones II pledged $20 million over the next 10 years to help with a replacement for University Hall. Jones, in presenting his gift, stated “the importance of pushing ahead with contstruction and giving the University community a recreational facility and gathering space consistent with our national stature.”
Jones’ gift paved the way for a design approval, which took place in May of 2002 when the Building and Grounds Commitee of the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors approved schematic plans.
The design includes a horseshoe-shaped, 15,000-seat arena with contiguous basketball practice courts, basketball coaches’ offices, a weight training room, a club lounge, and 20 luxury suites. The arena and adjacent parking, including a new garage, will be built across Massie Road from University Hall on what is now a parking lot.
“With the Building and Grounds Committee’s approval of the schematic design, we have passed a major milestone,” said University Architect Samuel “Pete” Anderson. “From here on out, we do not expect the plans to change much from what was presented.”
For basketball games, students will be seated courtside in two separate sections, with premium donor seating filling the remainder of the lower bowl, as well as an upper-level loge arena. The arena’s shape gives it not only a fan-friendly, “close to the court” seating arrangement for basketball games, but also makes it easily adaptable for other uses. The open end of the arena will be ideal for stages; the lower level will include retractable seats to maximize event flexibility.
Virginia head basketball coach Pete Gillen is very excited about the practice facility planned for the new building. “Having this practice facility will be an incredible advantage for us,” said Gillen. “It will let us have an ideal time for practice during the day, which will allow the student-athletes more flexibility in getting rest and taking care of academics. It will also be a very positive draw for recruits.”
The management firm of Barton Malow, Inc., will oversee construction. The same firm also managed the recent expansion of the Carl Smith Center, home of David A. Harrison III Field at Scott Stadium, and plans to pattern many of the construction processes after those used for the stadium project.
Project director Dick Laurance of UVa Facilities Management and a steering committee are overseeing the project from the University’s end.
“We are taking the many design and procurement processes as well as lessons learned from the stadium expansion project and creating an owner-architect-construction management team that will be the key management element for the project success over the next four years,” Laurance said. “It will be a great challenge for all of us to meet the financial, schedule, and quality goals that are laid out, but the pace of the project and enthusiasm are building rapidly in the right direction.”
Littlepage added, ” We want the facility to be one in which aspiring student-athletes will want to play. We want our students and fans of college basketball to be drawn to our facility because of its design, its comfort and other amenities. Athletics provides a unique opportunity to show off the University to the nation, and the public exposure that we will get not only from basketball on television but also from hosting significant events will attract the top students, faculty, and donors from across the country.
“This arena will be the front door of the University and also serve as a connection point for so many parts of UVa. It is a natural connection between North and Central Grounds and is a place where people from all facets of the University can gather.”