The Pete Maravich Assembly Center (PMAC) has hosted some amazing entertainment in its 30 years. Elvis played that building. So did the Rolling Stones, The Eagles and many others.
But now the building has the appearance of a rundown facility, with almost none of the amenities of a modern arena to boost revenue from fans. And that's the best argument for spending $25 to $30 million right now on the PMAC.
We put untold pressure on John Brady to win. It's time we gave him an arena fitting the exciting basketball LSU fans want. Men's basketball is a major revenue source; but better quality seating, concessions and merchandising opportunities are badly needed. And improving the atmosphere will help sell more seats.
The first obstacle to get things moving is streamlining management of the building. The Assembly Center is a university facility, and the athletic department pays rent for each game and practice time for men's and women's basketball, volleyball and gymnastics. The university also takes a percentage of concessions sales at all events and receives some funds for the building from the state.
But the only significant improvements have been funded by the athletic department -- new lower level seating costing $1 million in 1995, a new video scoreboard and sound system in 1999, and ongoing improvements to locker rooms. With utilities running about $1,000 per day, state funds barely cover the cost of keeping the lights on.
For years, the LSU athletic department tried unsuccessfully to get the building transferred to its supervision. The PMAC staff does an admirable job under very difficult circumstances, but the building has languished between the university, with no money and little understanding of sports, and the athletic department, focused on much-needed improvements to football facilities, which bring in more revenue and are managed more efficiently under its control.
By comparison, look at Oklahoma State's Gallagher-Iba Arena, called the "Madison Square Garden of the Plains", "the rowdiest arena in the country" and voted by CBS Sports as America's No. 1 college basketball arena.
Built in 1939 for $365,000, it's only major renovation was completed in 2001 as part of a $54 million athletic center project, with about $25 million spent on Gallagher-Iba.
I spoke with Gary Sparks, the architect who designed a way to increase seating from 6,300 to 13,600, add 16 luxury suites, escalators, elevators, new restrooms, new lively concourses, and other amenities while still maintaining its history, its ambience and its legendary acoustics.
"Our goal was to increase the quality of seating," Sparks said, "by adding fan amenities and making the arena's appeal more multi-purpose. One of the highlights was redesigning the concourse area to make it a place where fans want to mingle. It's been a home run."
And a slam-dunk, too.
Similarly, the University of Washington recently renovated the Hec Edmundson Pavilion, built in 1927, reconfiguring the seating bowl, and improving lighting and concourse areas to add fan amenities while preserving the historic building.
LSU fans know all too well what the PMAC needs. They've even started a Web site to support saving the building. It needs improvements that touch every level of fan, club seats, maybe some suites. The trend in NBA facilities is club areas located beneath lower level seating allowing fans quick access to prime courtside seats. It also needs modern restrooms; better lighting and access, concession stands and a redesigned concourse; improved handicap seating and more practice courts.
With four sports competing in the PMAC the main and auxiliary floors are insufficient. The UNO Lakefront Arena has three courts under one roof and LSU could easily use that.
Some schools sell ten-year naming rights to fund costly renovations. Others raise funds through major capital campaigns.
Considering the money the state has spent in New Orleans on the Saints, the New Orleans Arena and Zephyr Field, it could invest in its flagship university's Assembly Center, especially considering its multi-use.
Unfortunately, the TAF is too beaten up and bruised to carry this flag. What this effort needs is unity from those who have lived and loved LSU Basketball; it needs money, but it also needs heart. LSU has a skilled athletic director and an inspiring coach who can serve as rousing voices for LSU Basketball.
First, the university must declare this a priority. So far, it hasn't. Then they should join hands with Dale Brown and the Maravich family and launch a campaign to raise the funds needed for a first-class facility.
It's time for Pete's Palace to shine again.
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