Back in 2011 when planning began for a renovated Stephen C. O’Connell Center, the price tag to put lipstick on the University of Florida campus’ iconic pig was set at $33.8 million, a figure that rose to $50 million when plans were announced that construction would begin following the 2014-15 season with completion set sometime in late December or early January. As we know now there will be no renovation, not at least for a year and the price tag is now set at $60 million when something is finally done to turn one of the worst buildings in the Southeastern Conference into something that is at least presentable.
Along the way, the contractor that was hired to renovate has been canned because it submitted a final cost of $64 million and a new contractor has been hired but has yet to submit a budget. Given the fact that costs rarely go down and the first contractor (Charles Perry Partners, Inc.) has spent decades completing on campus projects on time and with realistic budgets, it seems somewhat doubtful that the new contractor (Birmingham-based Brasfield and Gorie) will be able to do the job for the $60 million Florida athletics director Jeremy Foley has earmarked for renovation.
In the press release that announced the renovations would be delayed for a year, UF president Kent Fuchs stated, “It’s incumbent on us to take the time and do it right.”
The key words, it seems, are “take the time” because given the history of this project it seems highly doubtful that renovations will begin any time in the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, in Oxford, Mississippi, Ole Miss will open the doors to a brand spanking new arena in the fall (The Pavilion at Ole Miss) that seats approximately 9,500 fans and closely resembles Auburn Arena, the 9,121-seat, five-year-old fan friendly venue where no fan sits more than 43 feet away from the action. Final costs at Ole Miss will be somewhere around $90 million while the Auburn arena was built for $86 million.
At both Auburn and Ole Miss, they could have spent big bucks renovating their old, outdated buildings but instead of glossing things over, they elected to start brand new, which is something the University of Florida should have thought about doing long ago. But instead of making the moves to turn the UF athletic facilities into showpieces for an athletic program that consistently wins the Southeastern Conference All-Sports Trophy and rarely finishes outside the top five in the country for best athletic programs, Florida is stuck dragging its heels in the 20th century some 15 years after the 21st began.
The concept at Florida is to keep all the athletic facilities close together on campus. It works just fine at Missouri, which has this nifty athletic park where all the facilities are right there together where there is also plenty of parking. There is just one problem with trying to do that at UF. There is absolutely zero room for expansion, which has everything to do with why soccer practices out on the west end where softball and lacrosse also call home. There is plenty of space out there and even more behind the Gainesville Hilton across from the campus on SW 34th Street. It would have made plenty of sense to put either a new basketball arena or baseball park out there and eliminate some of the clutter and many of the parking problems that currently exist. Moving one of those facilities out to the west end would have made it possible to better accommodate football’s indoor practice facility which has taken one full-length outdoor practice field away, leaving Florida coaches with one full-length grass practice field and a 70-yard artificial turf field.
Meanwhile, the baseball stadium got a multi-million dollar facelift that still left the park in the lower half of facilities in the SEC. If baseball had been moved out to the west side of campus in its place a multi-purpose building could have been erected like the one at Kentucky, which doubles as an indoor practice facility for football and serves as the home for the indoor track program (Kentucky hosted the SEC indoor championships in this facility earlier in the spring). As it stands now, indoor track won’t have an indoor facility when the O-Dome is renovated but will train outdoors at the Percy Beard Track. There is a huge different in distances and events indoors which means you need to train in a facility geared for those events. Given Florida’s sad state of track facilities, it’s a miracle of parting the Red Sea proportions that Mike Holloway has done what he’s done with Florida’s track program.
Now, a renovated O-Dome is better than what UF has now and maybe it will have a semi-palatial feel about it whenever construction is complete but when the dust is settled and the upgrades are complete, will it rank among the better facilities in the SEC?
You have to ask this question because the way things stand right now, the University of Florida is falling further behind in the arms race that is taking place in the SEC. Some people say spending all that money to upgrade facilities is unnecessary because while everyone else is spending like crazy, Florida is still winning championships. That’s been the way of thinking far too long.
The other school of thought – the one that is today’s reality – is that kids do make decisions about where they compete in collegiate athletics based on facilities. In these days and times, you either spend the money to upgrade or else risk losing athletes you should be signing to scholarships. The way it stands right now, Florida is no better than 10th or 11th in facilities in the 14-school Southeastern Conference and adding an indoor practice facility for football and renovating the O-Dome will not significantly elevate UF’s standing.Back on November 4, I ranked the schools and their facilities in the SEC like this:
Since then, Arkansas has continued to upgrade its facilities as part of a $300 million, 30-year plan. Texas A&M is finishing up the new Kyle Field, part of a $475 million, all-cash investment. Alabama is building a brand new $43 million baseball park. LSU is spending more money to upgrade Tiger Stadium, has plans to do another renovation of the Maracich Center and will contribute $36 million for general academic fund. Auburn has added new dorms and a nutrition center to go with plans for upgrading existing sky boxes and adding new ones at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Ole Miss is finishing up The Pavilion and expanding Vaught-Hemingway Stadium as part of a $175 million plan. Mississippi State is getting a new indoor practice facility and is going to inject up to $20 million to make its baseball stadium the best in the country. South Carolina is getting a new indoor practice facility opened for football and improving its entire athletic plant. Missouri is continuing to upgrade its football stadium and Kentucky is in the midst of a $100-million facilities upgrade and will contribute $60 million to a new science center for general academics.
In the meantime, while nearly everyone in the SEC is moving forward, Florida can’t get its act together to renovate the O-Dome even though it began plans to do so back in 2011.
How do you rate Florida’s athletic facilities: (1) more than adequate; (2) barely adequate or (3) embarrassing?
The more I listen to the Tedeschi Trucks Band the more I like them. The combination of Derek Trucks on a slide guitar and his wife Susan Tedeschi handling vocals is powerful but when you add that band they have backing them up, this is one of the most entertaining groups going. Today’s music is their live performance at the Vienna (Austria) Jazz Festival from last July 4.