Lebo: New Arena Will Be Fan Friendly

Auburn head men's basketball coach Jeff Lebo discusses the new arena project.

Auburn, Ala.--One of the primary concerns for Jeff Lebo when he talked to architects about features to incorporate into a new arena was to make it fan friendly.

The Auburn head coach says he believes that the firm Auburn University hired to make that happen, Three Sixty Architecture) from Kansas City, Mo., hit nothing but net on that assignment.

Jeff Lebo

"The seats are all going to be good seats," Lebo says of the new arena, which is expected to hold close to 10,000 people. It will be built in an area currently used for parking northwest of Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum and across the street from the site of the Luther Young Tennis Courts, which are being replaced by a new outdoor swimming pool.

"The fans are not going to be very far away from the court and the ceiling is going to be pretty low to keep the noise in," Lebo says. "There is a lot of thought that went into this. These people (Three Sixty Architecture) have done a terrific job. They have built arenas in the past. They wanted to get the students close. We think we have done. We have a lot of positive things that I think are going to be exciting for everybody."

Getting fans close to the arena floor is a high priority as this cross section view shows.

The arena will be going up next door to a new on-campus dorm project that is scheduled to break ground this year. The basketball team plans to use the new dorm for housing for all of its players. Also part of the arena project is a practice building for the men's and women's teams.

"The practice facility will have a weight room, new offices, new locker rooms, a new training room--everything you need to have for a basketball program," Lebo says. "Also, with the proximity of where the university is putting the new student housing, it will be very convenient for our players.

"If guys want to walk out of their dorm room and shoot foul shots at 10 o'clock at night, they will be able to do that," Lebo says. "That is the way it is at a lot of places. In a couple of years we will be able to do that here."

Lebo says he began to think the odds of the arena happening began to increase about a year ago when AU officials realized renovating the old coliseum and building practice arensa might not make economic sense. "You can't believe how many people told me that this wasn't going to happen so I am just thrilled about it," he says. "It makes a real statement that basketball is important to Auburn."

A view of the project is shown.

The new arena, which is likely to cost around $92.5 million, is expected to seat approximately 9,600 fans. Next to the floor there will be courtside chair seats for major contributors, but many of the prime seats next to the action will be reserved for students using bench style seating that AU used at the old Sports Arena, which was the home of the Tigers in the post World War II Era until the late 1960s when Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum was completed.

"The fans are going to be on top of the court at the new arena," Lebo says. "We wanted all of the seats to be close to the court and we got that. Hopefully, when we get the thing full we will have an advantage. It is going to be a classy arena, which is what we wanted."

Arena Tidbits:

*The facility will also be used for home gymnastics meets and can be used for volleyball matches. Auburn officials note it will also be used for graduation cermonies and for concerts.

*AU president Dr. Ed Richardson points out that no university general funds will be used for the project. Tigers Unlimited is expected to raise $30 million and there is $10 aside for maintenance for Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum that is being transferred to the new project. Richadson said it didn't make sense to spend $40 million needed to renovate the current coliseum and have a 50-year-old building. The rest of the project will be funded by bonds that will be repaid by athletic department revenue.

*AU women's basketball coach Nell Fortner spoke to the trustees as well as Lebo. Fortner got a big laugh when she said she wore her lucky blouse that she was "undefeated in" including the U.S. Olympic Team's gold medal game. Fortner says she will be showing plans for what she calls a "gorgeous building" to prospects who will be in Auburn this weekend for one of her basketball camps. "It will make a huge difference," she says.

The Tigers will likely move into the new arena for the 2010-2011 season.

*AU trustee Jimmy Rane said the board had studied building a new arena seven years and it is time to proceed on the project because the old coliseum needs replacing.

*Board of trustees member John Blackwell, a former Tiger basketball player, says early pledges from alumni and other fans is the reason the project is a go.

*While major projects like an arena have a tendency to go over budget, AU officials say they feel very good that the cost will not go past the $92.5 million allocated.

*Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said that building an new arena is one of the major pieces of the puzzle in his overall goal to give the university's athletes first class facilities in every sport.

The projected size of the complex is 243,792 square feet. Design work is scheduled to be finished this fall, bids will go out in spring 2008 and construction is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2008 with a completion date in time for the 2010-2011 academic year.

The map shows the site of the new arena.

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