Moving Dirt

Ole Miss held a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday morning. Literally.

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Top Ole Miss officials, including Chancellor Dan Jones, athletics director Ross Bjork and head men’s basketball coach Andy Kennedy, gathered in front of construction for the university’s new, multi-purpose arena west of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

The arena, named “The Pavilion at Ole Miss” and with a working budget of $85 million, will be approximately 230,000 square feet. It is scheduled to be completed by December of 2015.

“We’re making a commitment to excellence,” Bjork said. “It shows that we’re committed, that we’re for real as an SEC athletic department and we want to have facilities that speak to greatness and recruiting and fan experience and all those things. I think it’s a huge thing for our athletic program, and shows we’re healthy financially.”

“We’ve been recruiting to (the new arena) for about eight years,” Kennedy said, jokingly. “First it was when they were building Della Davidson (Elementary School), then Oxford High School. We were always saying that’s where. Now, it’s a reality. It’s hard for me to believe. It kind of puts it into perspective for me. As everything at Ole Miss is, when it’s finally completed, it’ll be quite a facility.”

Ole Miss has played in Tad Smith Coliseum, with its capacity of 8,700, since 1965. The Pavilion at Ole Miss, which is open to a naming sponsorship from either a private donor or a corporation, will seat around 9,600.

BL Harbert is constructing the new facility. Among the expected amenities are locker room suites for players, coaching staff, training facility, a Courtside Club, All-American Suites and the Arena Club. A food court will be built in, and uses include not only basketball games, but graduation, orientation, concerts and more.

The food court will “have two national retail chains,” according to Bjork, “that will be operated by our campus food provider, Aramark.” The food court will be open Monday through Friday.

As far as the design of the arena, Bjork said Ole Miss borrowed from a number of places.

“We took the previous design and the seating bowl is obviously very similar to that,” Bjork said. “We looked at Auburn, we looked at Mizzou, we looked at Missouri State for the cost and the size of their building is very similar to ours. Those are the three we decided. But we also looked at Oregon’s arena, and got some ideas from UCLA and Pauley Pavilion.”

A new arena is long overdue.

While Tad Smith Coliseum, affectionately and sometimes sarcastically referred to as the “Tad Pad,” has seen extensive updating over the past five years, myriad issues have faced the building, including a notoriously leaky roof.

“We’re making a commitment to excellence,” Bjork said. “It shows that we’re committed.”

Kennedy said recruiting to Tad Smith Coliseum has proved difficult.

“It’s had its challenges,” Kennedy said. “Every job has its challenges. That facility, for us, we won 83 percent of our games in that building, 73 percent in SEC play. The results were pretty good; I hope we can get those same results in the new facility. But from a game-day experience, from all the things that you’re asking your donors to step up for you, we finally have the opportunity to provide (recruits) something that equates to the other sports on this campus. From a recruiting standpoint, it gives us an opportunity to say, hey, you have everything you need to be successful as it relates to basketball.”

With construction for the new arena now well underway, Bjork said the next phase, the focus, of the Forward Together campaign will start to shift to expansion of the north end zone of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

The Forward Together campaign has reached $112.5 million in cash on hand and promises. The goal is $150 million.

“Days like this help,” he said. “We can take this step, get this going and we’re under construction and ready to be open by December 2015. It allows us to start focusing on that design process. It’s all additive. The way our campaign works, one project fuels another. The more we can build and the more we can add to that $112 (million) helps. But we have some pieces that we hope we can get construction on after the season. That's the next round of announcements in our building phase, what happens to that north end zone.”

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