"They bring to the table a lot of useful points that need to be discussed," said Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone. "They have a list of categories from parking to square footage to premium seats; what are we trying to accomplish in regard to multi-use and with a lot of bullet points underneath that. What all this does is gets the conversation stimulated as to all the things we've got to try to get accomplished."
It was mainly an overview session, a new starting point if you will, toward planning a new arena.
"We set up a timeline of how often we want to meet to start with," he said of their sessions with AECOM officials. "We'll try to meet every two weeks (the next three to four months). In between those meetings we'll get the information that we've all agreed we need to get. We'll decide the groups we want to get input from as to how they see what their needs are, from ticket holders to donors to university officials to students. Then we'll put all those pieces together.
"We'll have something in the next 120 days that is close enough to what it's felt that Ole Miss wants and try to go out and get funding for. Then the next stage after that, once we feel like we've got enough commitments for funding, then we will move forward with the next stage, which is to hire an architect. That's when you really put specific goals and how you want it laid out actually together."
"We'll know more after (the feasibility study) as far as a more specific timetable," he said of fund-raising and construction. "We want to make sure we don't get out in front of ourselves. We've thought through it a lot. We've spent months talking about this. But we want to get their expertise as to how to market it and what is reasonable. Hopefully within the (next three to four months) we'll have a pretty good timeline for the next benchmarks we want to hit."
So who is AECOM? Here's what its website says.
AECOM (NYSE: ACM) is a global provider of professional technical and management support services to a broad range of markets, including transportation, facilities, environmental, energy, water and government.
With approximately 45,000 employees around the world, AECOM is a leader in all of the key markets that it serves. AECOM provides a blend of global reach, local knowledge, innovation, and technical excellence in delivering solutions that create, enhance and sustain the world's built, natural, and social environments.
A Fortune 500 company, AECOM serves clients in approximately 125 countries. AECOM is ranked by Ethisphere as one of the world's 110 most ethical companies for 2011.
What you want to know, obviously, is some facilities they've built or renovated. Here is a partial list.
New basketball arenas at the University of Oregon, the University of Virginia, the University of Maryland, Missouri State University, Gonzaga University, the FedEx Forum in Memphis, The Sprint Center in Kansas City, Time Warner Cable Center in Charlotte, along with renovations to places like the Louisiana Superdome (after Hurricane Katrina), Rupp Arena at Kentucky, and they've built other facilities like Turner Field in Atlanta and Ford Field in Detroit.
The list is much longer, but you get the picture. AECOM, along with architectural firm Ellerbe Becket which is a part of AECOM, is a world-wide leader. It's also charged with helping Ole Miss decide what it needs as far as all aspects of a new on-campus arena.
"Their goal is to get the bid on the architectural work," Boone said of narrowing it down to AECOM from an original list of three for the feasibility study. "We went to companies that we knew some of the products they had done around the country. That's how we came up with the three. All were nationally-known companies. Then we chose the one that best answered our questions. What we're specifically focused in on right now is the feasibility study, not the ultimate design. After this is done, it isn't a certainty they (AECOM) will get the architectural bid. There will still be a bid process."
Danny White, Executive Director of the UMAA Foundation, said having the initial meeting this week was another positive step.
"Probably the most important thing we did at the meeting was pave out a schedule of plans over the next eight weeks or so, not only with AECOM but also with focus groups, like our donors, the student body, things like that," White said. "I thought (the meeting) went great. It's such a large project, there's just a lot to work through. It was a good, really long, initial meeting. I actually thought we got a little further along than I was expecting. All in all it was real productive."
White said people should now be able to see that things are indeed moving ahead with this project.
"We're putting the dream down on paper, and then take hopefully the next 12 to 15 months (after the feasibility study) to raise all the money," White said. "What we'll do once we figure out all the details is to come up with a plan, and we'll be very public with our plan, and we'll put some fund-raising goals out there. I'm confident Ole Miss fans will step up. The Vaught Society is proof of that. Our fans have a track record of stepping up when they've been asked. I think the same will be the case with this."
White said Ole Miss needs even more Rebel fans to step up with an enormous undertaking such as this one.
"Fund-raising for a project of this size isn't going to get done with just major gift fundraising," he said. "It's got to be with more people involved and with more of a blended funding model with a significant amount of money generated off of seats."
"We wouldn't have hired AECOM for a feasibility study if we weren't serious about it," White said of the pace with which the project seems to be moving ahead. "We feel confident we can get this thing done. We just need to get more concrete answers in some areas. We expect by the end of this feasibility study to have all of our answers."
University administrative officials will also meet with AECOM in the weeks ahead, according to Boone.
"They'll interview (Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs) Larry Ridgeway, (Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance) Larry Sparks, (Provost) Morris Stocks, (Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs) Sparky Reardon, and students. They'll interview everybody that might have some need for some facility or some part of a facility. We want this to be open for everybody to have an opportunity to have some input as to what best fits Ole Miss."
Boone said he can envision some of what the feasibility study might show, and he already knows the general seating capacity they are working toward and the preliminary location discussed.
"It's safe to say it will not seat over 10,000. I think that's fairly safe to say," he said. "We're looking in the proximity of where Tad Smith is now. There are several parking lots around there. There's the closeness of the Turner Center. It's going to be somewhere in that area, we believe."
Boone reiterates this project isn't something they decided to look into this winter or spring. It's been discussed for longer than that.
"We've really been working on this thing since last summer, and maybe even as long as a year ago," he said. "Danny White and his group have been working on this plan for almost a year. We're not just starting. We're well down the road. Being prepared is where we are now, and that is enabling us to be on a fast track for this. We're methodical. We're not rushing anything. We're making plans so we'll have good results."
White said certain aspects of the project will begin to happen fairly quickly now.
"We'll meet with the focus groups and try to get that done in the next three weeks," he said. "We feel like it‘s important to know that information a little earlier in the process. What we learn with that will help dictate how we set up some of the seating components and other aspects. We've been working on this for a long time. We don't want to come out with an idea of a project without a specific plan. And that's what we're working on."
Boone simply summed it up in sports terms.
"We've got the ball rolling," he said.