The newly renovate Exactech Arena at the Stephen O'Connell Center is ready to open its doors.

GAINESVILLE, Fla.-- Florida's winter sports is returning home. The newly renovate Exactech Arena at the Stephen O'Connell Center is ready to open its doors on Friday and is set to host its first basketball game next week. FightinGators.com took a tour of the new facilities.

The final touches are almost complete as the Exactech Arena at the Stephen O'Connell Center is set to open its doors for the first time this week. 

"It's been a labor of love that has gone for the last 29 months but one thats really been worthwhile," said Executive Associate Athletics Director for Internal Affairs' Chip Howard on Thursday. "We've had a great partnership with the university and the athletics and the O'Connell center staff. We're excited for the fans to finally come in and enjoy it."

The $64.5 million dollar project really picked up with the beginning of construction in March. Nine months later the project is set to be completed on time and on budget, as the O'Connell center will host winter commencement on Friday and its first basketball game on Dec. 21. 

"It's exciting in the aspect of seeing of when we first started the study in 2011 to finally seeing it completed close to  2017," said Howard. 

When Florida fans walk through the entrance next week for men's basketball game Arkansas-Little Rock, they will be welcomed by a few changes. Gone is the inside track which is replaced by more comfortable seating and more premium amenities, including new premium seats. 

"We've never had premium seating options in the O'Connell center," said Howard. "We have club seats that sit about 530 thats at mid-level thats called center court club. Then we have court-side club at the lower level and the service level to serve our court side seats. So we have premium options that we are excited about."

A more comfortable seat is not the only thing waiting for fans. Fans will walk through a 20,000 square foot atrium filled with concession and merchandise stands and walk straight through to the arena, where new LED sports lighting, new sound system and a $2 million dollar scoreboard is waiting for them. 

"The fans are going to enjoy it when they come in," Howard said. "The experience that they will have between the sound and the light and the video is going to be second to none."

Last week new athletic director Scott Stricklin said he wanted to add to the fan experience at Florida. The renovations at the O'Dome is just one step closer to making that happen. 

"I don't think it's a step, I think it's a huge jump," stated Howard. "We can give to fans here at the O'Connell Center." 

**VIDEO ABOVE INCLUDES SNAPSHOTS OF TOUR** 

Full interview with Executive Associate Athletics Director for Internal Affairs' Chip Howard


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