Lots of Smiles at Auburn Arena Ceremony

Auburn, Ala.--Former Auburn basketball player and current board of trustees member John Blackwell was beaming on Friday as the university held a formal ground-breaking ceremony for the new on-campus basketball arena that is scheduled to open for the 2010-11 season.

"This arena will be a far cry from what we played in when I was at Auburn," says Blackwell, who played guard for Coach Joel Eaves at the old Sports Arena, which was affectionately known to students and fans as "The Barn."

"I think The Barn would seat about 2,500, with people shoe-horned in there," says Blackwell, who played for the Tigers in the early 1960s. "We are quite excited. This is a big day for Auburn. I hope this will move us to the next level."

The Tigers played in The Sports Arena from 1948-1969. Prior to that their homecourts were Alumni Gym from 1916-1948 and The Gymnasium from 1906-16.

John Blackwell is shown at the arena ceremony.

Blackwell says he and other AU officials considered renovating Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum, which has been the home for Auburn basketball for four decades.

"We explored renovation and it wasn't feasible," Blackwell says. "There is too much that needs to be done to the old coliseum. It has asbestos and a lot of other problems. This is the way to go."

The new facility, which is located a couple hundred yards northwest of the coliseum, will contain 243,792 square feet of space. It will include an arena that will seat approximately 9,600 fans and two separate basketball practice courts, offices for the men's and women's basketball teams, locker rooms, training facilities, a players' lounge, 12,000 feet of banquet and entertainment space plus a new home for an expanded Lovelace Museum.

Pillars for the new basketball arena rise in the photo while the Auburn Village dorm project is shown in the background.

Students will have their own entrance, there will be a food court with upgraded concessions, 12 luxury suites and a high definition video board/

"The design is one that is comparable to Cameron Indoor Arena at Duke in profile," Blackwell notes. "It means the crowd will be right next to the court so that means that we will have a better homecourt advantage."

Another former Tiger, early 1950s standout Jim O'Donnell, says he is "flabbergasted" with how nice the new arena is going to be. "I would say it is beyond words how much nicer it is than the Sports Arena. I remember the announcer at the arena saying, ‘Everybody move to the left so we can get another 100 people in.' It was an enjoyable place to play, but I wish I could have played in an arena like this. It is going to be great for recruiting, great for the team and great for Auburn."

A drawing of the inside of the arena is shown.

Auburn University president Jay Gogue, athletic director Jay Jacobs and board of trustees member Paul Spina spoke at the ceremony. Spina noted with the project coming in approximately $10 million under budget that the extra money can be used to demolish Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum and replace it with a parking deck that will service students and staff on a daily basis and help alleviate the parking crunch for football, basketball and baseball games.

"We are awfully proud to be with you today," Gogue said in a very brief speech at the ceremony. "I remember once at another university, it was very calm, the streets were nice, the grass was mowed and a guy came to campus and said if you don't have cranes in the sky, you don*t have a very dynamic university.

"We have cranes in the sky, construction all over the place and worry about where everybody will park," adds Gogue, who made the speech despite being ill this week with flu-like symptoms. "This is a great day for Auburn Basketball. We are proud of it. I know our coaches wish we had it years and years and go."

The arena is being built next door to the largest construction project in the university's history, a dorm village that will provide a place to live with classrooms for approximately 1,600 students. It is scheduled to open in August 2009.

Athletic Director Jay Jacobs speaks at the ceremony. Seated and facing the camera is former Auburn star guard John Mengelt.

"What an exciting day for Auburn University and Auburn athletics," Jacobs says. "A project this big takes a lot of people to pull together. Leadership takes different forms at different times. It is awfully easy to lead when everything is going well.

"On January 20, 2006, we met to talk about a practice facility for our basketball team because there had been 100 days the year before that we didn't have access to where they could practice in this multi-purpose facility," the athletic director points out.

"In that meeting, Mr. Lowder and Mr. Blackwell stepped up and said that we had to do something different. Leadership was tough and made tough decisions during a tough time, but their vision was right which brings us to today."

A drawing of the project is shown.

Spina says that the arena project is an investment in men's coach Jeff Lebo and women's coach Nell Fortner and credits trustees Bobby Lowder and Blackwell with leading the push. "People said, ‘You are going to spend $92 million to build an arena.' No, no, we are going to invest something less than $92 million in two great coaches." Spina complimented Fortner with doing a good job and says he expects Lebo's teams to perform better in the coming years.

"It's a great day," says Fortner, who had a big smile after doing the ceremonial dirt shovel ceremony. "I have got dirt in my shoes and I don't even mind it. It is so neat to to be so close to it and trying to envision exactly where we are going to be standing in the arena when it is built.

"I can't say enough with how exciting this is," Fortner adds. "Anytime you have a new facility, one that is state of the art, you are going to get a lot of looks from players and it can only help you in recruiting."

Auburn officials are shown during the ground-breaking ceremony on Friday.

Lebo says he is excited to see the construction moving ahead with the project. Foundation work is well under way with support beams rising out of the ground. "I am very thankful for the vision of so many people who helped make this happen. Finally to get the groundbreaking ceremony behind us with shovels in the ground and things coming out of the ground is a significant day for Auburn Basketball."

Lebo says he expects the arena will help recruiting, be a nicer place for fans to watch games and it will be a much nicer place for the players and coaches for practices and games.

Another view is shown of what the finished project should look like.

The arena was designed by 360 Architecture of Kansas City with assistance by Davis Architects of Birmingham on the design of the arena. Robins & Morton of Birmingham is the construction manager and Harbert Construction of Birmingham is doing the construction.

A primary design consideration was to put fans closer to the action than the coliseum, which was constructed as a 1960s multi-purpose facility that was used for indoor track, wrestling, ice shows, concerts, circuses and a variety of other uses. Many of the seats at the coliseum are not close to the action for a basketball game.

2008 Inside the Auburn Tigers Football Guide

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