SPEAR: “WE NEED ALL HANDS ON DECK”

WITH IDAHO’S SUCCESSFUL PRESENTATION to the State Board of Education, the new Idaho Arena project transitions from Concept Phase into the Leadership Phase. During this phase of development major donations will be sought as the design begins to take its final form. Idaho Athletics Director Rob Spear talked with GoVandals.net about the significance of this next step and what lies ahead.

A dedicated arena may be on the horizon as the new home for Idaho basketball and volleyball.

It’s a need that has been unfilled on the Idaho campus for decades. But, at long last the wheels appear to be set in motion to construct a new, stand-alone basketball facility on the Idaho campus. It is, in fact, a facility that has been discussed since the 1960’s. Through the years numerous concepts have been considered to address this most basic athletics program need.

Now, on the heels of a successful presentation to the Idaho State Board of Education – the University of Idaho’s Board of Regents – this project finally appears to be leaving the drawing board and onto a path to becoming a reality. University of Idaho President Charles “Chuck” Staben, entering his second year at the helm, has made this project a University priority and led the presentation to the Board in Boise.

The planned $30 MILLION project, which includes approximately $25 MILLION in construction costs, will be entirely privately funded. The facility will have a game day arena with a capacity of 5,000 fans, plus a dedicated adjacent practice gym on the east side with new locker rooms, meeting rooms and coaches offices. On the west side is a convention space for pre-game events.

GoVandals.net was recently granted an interview with Idaho Athletics Director Rob Spear following the presentation to the Board. Topics we discussed included potential funding sources, a time-table for the project, and some follow-up questions about the design, including potential future expansion of the facility if ever needed.

Below is our conversation with Dr. Spear.




ABOUT THE PRESENTATION

PAT HAUGE: Who was involved in the presentation of the Arena concept to the State Board of Education?
ROB SPEAR: “It was a joint effort that involved President Staben, me, and the Financial Vice President [Ron Smith] all at the table.”

PH: Can you talk about the roles of the different presenters?
RS: “It was a very simple presentation, actually, because we went to the board as an informational item only. So we weren’t asking for any votes in an approval process. President Staben kicked it off by saying that this has been discussed and talked about on our campus since 1969, and that we’re committed to raising $30 MILLION privately. We then essentially turned it over to the Board and asked if they had any questions. The Board had several questions regarding some of the schematics and where it was going to be located and the capacity. After that they wished us luck and appeared to be behind the project.”

PH: Can you describe the significance of the SBOE decision for this project keep moving forward?
RS: “It really wasn’t a decision [it was an exchange of information]. Actually, the biggest decision was made by President Staben to put this on the Board agenda as an informational item. All the kudos goes to President Staben for making this a University priority. It’s his priority now, and it appears to be the right time now as we’ve just concluded a $261 MILLION campaign. We’re between campaigns, and this seems like a great project to take on and get done.”

Interior conceptual view of the arena. Lower bowl seats approximately 2,600 fans while the upper level seats approximately 2,100 fans (about 1,000 seats on each upper level side line).

ABOUT THE PROJECT MOVING FORWARD

PH: Can you talk about a timetable for this project?
RS: “The timetable is strictly dependent on how fast we can raise the money for this facility. I think we should anticipate an 18-24 month timeframe to get all the funding in place, and figure out a way that we can do this entirely through private sources. And then you’re looking at an 18-24 month design and construction phase. So I think a four year window from now would be the ideal time frame, but it could stretch into five years. Again, it all depends how successful we’re going to be getting people to step up and participate in this fund raising effort. We need all hands on deck. It is something that is going to require all of our alumni and boosters to take part in, and prove to people in this state that the University of Idaho can take on a significant project and get it done.”

PH: How important was it to have President Staben taking such a leadership role in the presentation?
RS: “A little unexpected actually. The Financial Vice President usually does these presentations. When I said that I would be available President Staben said that I was going to be the one that was going to give the presentation. But he jumped up and took the lead. He basically told the board how important this project is, that the University has been planning for it since 1969, and that he was committed to doing this as long as we were successful fundraising the money privately. So that was a big thing for him to do, to take a leadership role.”

PH: So you knew he would be there, you just didn’t know he was going to take such a leadership role in the discussion?
RS: “Correct.”

PH: What is the next step in this process?
RS: “We have been planning for the last month and trying to identify some lead gift opportunities. We’re putting those together, and now that we have informed the Board and done our due-diligence we can start targeting those groups and individuals we have earmarked for participation in this Leadership Phase.”

Exterior night view of the facility. Windows at the front of the facility (north side) allow visibility into the arena from the outside. On the right side of the structure under the upper level stands is a pre-game convention space. To the far left of the structure (east side) is a practice gym that will include some combination of locker rooms, coaches offices, meeting rooms, etc.

ABOUT FINANCING FOR THE PROJECT

PH: The project is going to be completely privately financed; can you walk us through that process?
RS: “As history will tell you, 90% of a project is funded by 10% of individuals and corporations. That is why we are in this Leadership Phase, and why we are targeting entities that can provide a major gift. And that is why we want to be successful in raising about $15 MILLION in this Leadership Phase. From there we can go to a public phase where we will seek participation from everybody.“

PH: Corporations will play a role in this effort, right?
RS: “They will. We’re looking at two main areas. We think we can solicit a naming opportunity for the Kibbie Dome; that facility has never been named in perpetuity. We also think there is a naming opportunity for a new arena, of course. Those would be naming opportunities for 10 years for each facility that you could resell after 10 years. We’ve done some research leading up to this State Board discussion and the research has told us that we could expect about $500,000 per year for ten years for a naming opportunity, so essentially $5 MILLION for 10 years [for each facility], and then resell it again after 10 years.”

PH: What role do you see Idaho alumni playing in this effort?
RS: “We have over 100,000 University of Idaho alumni; all of them are passionate about the University of Idaho. Why couldn’t we get 50,000 of them to give $250 dollars over a five year period [this breaks down to donating about a dollar a week for 5 years]. That alone would raise $12.5 MILLION towards this project. Why not? Why not Idaho? Why not break the mold of traditional fund-raising and get everyone engaged?”

PH: What role, if any, do you anticipate the local community to take in this project? This facility will certainly benefit the local economy.
RS: “I think there will be a request that some influential people in the community, and certainly some businesses in the community, get actively involved in this project, because you are right, it is going to create an economic impact to this community. It is going to allow the Dome to be used for larger concerts during the winter when students are looking for something to do. That’s why I think this facility is a niche building on our campus; it wouldn’t compete with the Dome, and allows us to create more of a residential environment. We have a great residential campus now, and this would enhance that. And it would help with President Staben’s initiative to increase enrollment.”

PH: Have you and Dr. Staben talked about how the arena could enhance student growth?
RS: “We haven’t talked directly how this will impact that initiative, but there’s no question in my mind that it will benefit enrollment. The more activities, and the more of a living and learning environment you can create, the better your enrollment is going to be. And, when you can move the basketball programs and volleyball program into a new facility, you can elevate your ability from a recruiting standpoint, especially with the amenities that are tied into this facility. A lot of people forget that we’re going to have a practice gym and a conference center. All those things are meant to provide a great student-athlete experience and a great experience for people that come to that venue for games.

“We want to create an atmosphere of energy, and when there is an atmosphere of energy, people will want to be there. That is our goal.”

PH: What about the student body, will they have any skin in the game?
RS: “The President is very clear that we’re not going in that direction.”

ABOUT THE FACILITY

PH: Do you think the concept you presented is close to what the final design will look like?
RS: “I think so. Obviously, when you get into the final design and construction there could be some modifications, some changes. But I think what you see is what we’re shooting for.”

PH: Have you received formal construction quotes for this project?
RS: “We were very careful to try to get a project that was affordable. We engaged with a donor who has a geotechnical company who did a tremendous job on the soil survey, the soil sampling. That was an important criterion to know how deep we could dig down. That would determine how much concrete and what kind of drainage would be needed for this project. What came about from that study is that the maximum depth we would want to go down is 14-15 feet. This is very valuable information to the contractors who provided bids. We felt we got the construction costs as close as possible [to actual costs]. The construction costs came in at about $24 MILLION [the overall project cost will be about $30 MILLION when all additional fees and expenses are included].

“It was asked by a Board member if this facility was going to be attached to the Dome. At one point in time we had a project identified that would be attached to the Dome, but this now will be a stand alone facility. You would think it might create some construction efficiencies once you have one concourse already. But it actually increases construction costs, so it’s better to have it be a stand alone facility.”

PH: Is there any allowance for the addition of space reserved for luxury type of seating?
RS: “The schematics we have today do not show any suites or luxury seating, but that doesn’t take away from when we get into final design to actually consider that.

“I think it’s very important in this facility to have, at some point in time, a kitchen in there because of the conference space and the ability to provide advanced food services to participants. We’ll look at that.

“But the most important thing at this point is not to reduce the square footage any more. We get into these things and unfortunately sometimes the costs escalate and then you start cutting back. I think it’s important in this case not to sacrifice square footage. Let’s get that footprint in place, and then you can do things at a later date. Let’s not minimize our ability to do what we have planned.”

Lower bowl seating, with 11 rows of seating evenly wrapped around the court. To the right is a practice gym with locker rooms on the far right (east) wall. The locker rooms may be swapped with the coaches offices currently situated between the practice gym and game floor for easier access during game day. Players would access the court behind each basket on the north and south ends of the floor.

PH: Is it possible the locker rooms and coaches offices could move as the design matures?
RS: “What will probably happen is that we will swap where the locker rooms and offices are located in the current layout. It would make sense that we put the locker rooms where the offices are located and move the offices to the other side. That way the players will have easier access into the arena, underneath the stands, and come out right by the baskets.”

Upper level seating, with 17 rows of seating evenly distributed on each sideline (east and west sides of the facility). Potentially, in the future, the facility could be expanded with about 1,000 more upper level seats extending out the south end of the building if more capacity was required.

PH: Is it possible seating capacity could change as the design matures?
RS: “I don’t think it’s going to go up. However, you’re always going to be able to extend the facility out the south end if you want to. We’ve already had those conversations with the architect.

“But I doubt you will see it go any higher, because attendance across the country is declining. We need to focus on building a venue that is going to create atmosphere. To create atmosphere we have to have an intimate environment. That is why we are so focused on having it around 5,000 seats.

“And having that lower bowl, even if you only have 2,000 people at the game, you’ll still create atmosphere because they’re so close to the court. And then you’ll still have the upper levels which are still great seats but provide you the extra capacity.

“You look at volleyball or women’s basketball and if you get 800-1000 people there, they’ll be sitting closer to the court to create some energy.”

PH: When you mentioned you were looking at seating in the south end, what were you looking at there?
RS: “You could extend that structure south, at the same level as the upper level seating [creating an upper level behind the basket on the south end]. You could extend the structure out the south end.”

PH: And adding seating to the arena is something that could be done in a separate project the future?
RS: “That would be a future project, a future addition. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Idaho could add approximately 1,000 more seats on the south end in a future addition project if there was a need for more capacity in the arena]

“One thing though, Pat, is we are not going to sacrifice the practice gym for additional seating [with this current project]. That would be the worst thing we could do. Having that practice gym, the locker rooms and those amenities, is key to this project; even more so than the game day venue itself.”

READ MORE:

LINK: Leadership phase begins (IDAHO OFFICIAL SITE)

LINK: Idaho Plans Aggressive Fundraising for $30M Arena (Athletic Business)

LINK: We're simply advising you that we're now really going to move forward" (Vandal Nation)


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