The historic building now hosts a handful of basketball games per year and sees its largest athletics crowds before home football games for the band's Skull Session. Seeing a sporting event these days in the 54-year-old venue usually means taking in a contest in gymnastics, volleyball or wrestling – sports that rarely push crowds above the 5,000-spectator mark.
Those sports still give St. John Arena a purpose, but just how long they will do so is up for debate.
When the university's board of trustees meets in June, future uses of the plot of land housing SJA, the OSU Ice Rink and French Field House could be discussed as the university presents its long-term facilities master plan. And many of the athletics offices in the building are being moved across the Olentangy River to the Fawcett Center, prompting some to ask if the days are numbered for the 13,000-plus seat arena.
The answer from Ohio State, at least at this time, is not so fast.
The offices move – which will go on through the summer and include development, event management, camps, communications and the business office – simply presents the department with a chance to unite most of its members in spacious, renovated office space that had recently become available.
"Just from a business standpoint, (director of athletics) Gene (Smith) wants our department to get physically together," senior associate athletics director Pat Chun said. "We're the largest athletic department in the country, so to have your staff all in one building, all centralized like any company, makes a lot of sense."
The trustees meeting, meanwhile, represents a big move at the university level to address the long-term usage of the parcel of land St. John occupies, but university senior vice president for administration and planning Jeff Kaplan said not to read too much into that, either.
"People will talk about the possibility of using this space over here for this and this space over here for that, and I'm sure somebody will seize on the land where St. John is, and the response will be what you've heard," Kaplan said. "Our master plan does call for a consideration of alternate uses for that in the next 10 or 15 years, but nothing more specific than that."
The end of his response is telling, though, in one regard, as it might signal an expiration date for St. John Arena.
Though it is not among nearly $40 million in anticipated facilities upgrades or new projects the department is actively working on, a $15 million, 3,500-seat pavilion for the court sports is on the horizon. Conceived as part of a 2008 athletics facilities master plan that will steer the foreseeable future of OSU venues, the pavilion would be placed west of the river in an athletics village growing out from the current batch of facilities including the Schottenstein Center, Bill Davis Stadium and the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
However, as Kaplan said, that facility is well down the road.
"It's going to happen in 10 or 12 or 15 years," Kaplan said. "It's a nonstory. There's nothing to be discussed."
"It is a giant holding pattern, it absolutely is," associate AD in charge of finance and operations Ben Jay said of St. John's future.
However, with no existing plans to designate any money to renovate St. John Arena, which last hosted basketball full-time in 1998, it is easy to see why the future of the building is so clouded.
The building has around $30 million of deferred maintenance issues including $3 million in critical repairs needed at this time to the roof and steam system. Other necessary repairs include upgrades to the heating and cooling systems, electrical systems, exterior, plumbing, accessibility and fan experience.
The 2008 facilities master plan did include a provision that the building be renovated to address those issues, but that plan stated it could take up to $41.5 million to complete that task. Other estimates from Kaplan and Jay are even higher considering the nearly $30 million in necessary repairs and the fact that the building would have to be upgraded in terms of energy efficiency, among other factors that would have to be addressed to make the building's future viable for decades to come.
"There's just no reason to put a lot of money in it," Jay said. "It just doesn't make sense. St. John Arena has served its purpose."
If athletics moves out of the venue for good, the university would then have the final say what to do with St. John Arena and the other venues on its parcel of land. Both athletics and the university seem to believe that plot would best serve Ohio State in another way.
"I think their preference is to move to a facility that would replace (St. John Arena) somewhere else," Kaplan said of athletics. "Again, its one of those situations where it makes sense for the university to put some academic and housing facilities there. We're lucky because I think Ben and Gene feel like given their options and what else they need to do, they're constrained there and it would be better for them to put in a replacement facility somewhere else, so it works out for everybody."
The other $40 million in athletic facilities projects either started in recent months or in the works:
--A $5.05 million boathouse for the rowing team on the Scioto River, started in November and expected to be finished in the fall or winter.
--$5.2 million in upgrades to the outdoor football practice facilities south of the WHAC, started in April and expected to be finished during the summer. Almost the entire bill was footed by the Harmon family of Holland, Ohio, and the completed facility will be known as the Harmon Family Football Practice Park.
--A $2.15 million field hockey stadium north of the WHAC near Olentangy River Road, started recently and due to be completed by the start of the 2010 season in August.
--A $22 million basketball practice venue, which will be attached to the west side of the Schottenstein Center. Though the vision for the project was announced in winter 2008, the athletics department is still well short of funds.
--A $5.5 million indoor golf practice facility at the OSU Golf Course. Schematics and a location have been picked for the venue, which would look like the clubhouse built in 1936.
--A $3.2 million upgrade to the outdoor tennis facility, the Stickney Tennis Center. Plans are being looked at to see if the price tag can be brought down.
According to Jay and Chun, all plans must be paid for by fund-raising efforts.