By James Staley
Mar 30, 2004, 12:01 am
If you've been to a New Mexico State University sporting event during the last couple of years, you've probably seen Ron Richman. If not, you've surely heard him ... especially if you're a referee.
It's hard not to notice the 31-year-old day care worker and part-time student. He's big enough to be a defensive lineman with a voice to match. New Mexico State University Athletics Director
Richman's not exactly shy with his opinions. Saturday after an Aggie baseball game at Presley Askew Field he talked about the Stan Fulton Athletics Center, the building that's filling up the south end of Aggie Memorial Stadium's bowl.
"It's great," Richman said of the multi-million dollar project, scheduled for completion by August. "Now we (NMSU fans) can show people we're not as backwards as they think. I love it." Richman's views seem to represent the majority opinion about the Fulton Center: It's a superb, if not late, idea, plus it's a chance for a poor mid major (a.k.a. major college sports' little brother) like NMSU to say, "I'm a big kid now!" Campus literature terms the Fulton Center the "most significant facility upgrade in 25 years."
It certainly has the price tag. Fortunately for NMSU, half the $6-million cost came from the checkbook of Stanley Fulton, the Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino owner and philanthropist. His $3-million donation, the largest boon in the history of NMSU athletics, combined with several bank loans to get the power tools going.
Construction began last year, and despite losing a floor during the planning phase the project still makes quite a shadow. The three-floor facility encompasses 33,467 square feet. It's close enough to completion to tour without a hardhat.
"This is huge," said Charlie Johnson, former Aggie quarterback and current academic department head of chemical engineering, during a tour of the Fulton Center last week. "I had no idea."
Besides its deceiving size, there are several other stand-out features inside the Fulton Center.
First the openness. It's a claustrophobe's dream. The only things crammed in are huge windows and the views. That's apparent from the administration offices/classrooms on the first floor to the rooftop terrace just outside the banquet area and sky boxes on floor three. Second, the amount of bathrooms and storage space. Tour guide and NMSU Athletics Director Brian Faison kept acknowledging nearly every bathroom. Important information, sure, but more a swipe at the University of New Mexico, which forgot to include restrooms in a similar project a few years ago.
Don't think a UNM oversight is the only lesson Faison and Co. took in designing the Fulton Center. "Florida State's facilities were a big influence in design," Faison said. "(The Fulton Center) isn't close to the size but, considering (Florida State) is know for its hospitality and tourism program, we wanted to incorporate some of it's elements."
Most prominently those elements can be found on the third floor. That's the Fulton Center's money-making floor with its four, 24-person capacity sky boxes ($12,000 a pop), and 200-capacity banquet facility, which will double as a lunch/early happy hour club five days a week. Faison said the room will eventually be available for rent as a reception hall.
"I know we'll make money, but I'm not sure how much," Faison said. "We'll have to wait and see, but we'll be able to pay back the loans." The demand was high enough for the four sky boxes that a lottery had to be held. Kevin McGrath, owner of a local restaurant chain, was one of the names selected. He and automobile dealer Lou Sisbarro and banker Gary Lenzo split the cost of the center box.
"This will be a step up," McGrath said. "Especially with (NMSU) moving to the (Western Athletic Conference in 2005). It's exciting."
If those features don't churn enough cash, there's the naming rights of almost everything from football coaches' offices (first floor, $10,000 each) to the hydrotherapy section of the second floor's athletic training headquarters ($50,000). One of two large classrooms can bear your name for just $100,000.
Besides fattening up the athletic department's piggy bank, the Fulton Center could also help the sports programs, most noticeably football. "We've already used it in recruiting," Aggie football coach Tony Samuel said.
It's worth the hour tour to visit. You may even bump into Fulton if you go. He hasn't got a chance to see it yet. But he probably won't have much to say.
"When I go to the dentist I don't tell them how to fill my teeth," Fulton said from his office in Las Vegas, Nev. "I'm not going to tell them what to do with it."
From the way the Fulton Center is progressing it doesn't seem NMSU needs the advice.