The University of Dayton is unveiling its newly renovated UD Arena tonight, fresh off a three-year, $76.2 million upgrade that is meant to give the facility another 50 years of life.
UD women’s basketball team plays an exhibition game against Ashland University tonight for the first public event since the renovations were completed. The men’s team plays its first public game in the facility Saturday in an exhibition against Cedarville University.
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“We did this with generations in mind,” said Neil Sullivan, Dayton’s athletic director. “This was a generational project. We tried to do it the most fiscally responsible way we could for our fans and partners, but we took the long-term view. We already have plans over the next 10 to 20 years (to address) the life cycles of certain things. We’re fully prepared to make adjustments as we go along to make the building shine and live on as long as it can to serve the community and the university.”
The arena opened in 1969 and if it lasts another 50 years, UD Arena would turn 100 in 2069.
“We’re talking about at least 100 years now,” said UD President Eric F. Spina. “When I came here, there was lots of talk that if we don’t do something soon, we’re going to have to do something else for basketball. We’re going to have to play someplace else, build something new, play in an existing arena. I was just becoming (familiar) with UD basketball history at the time. Now that I’m firmly versed in it. What a shame that would be if our future players aren’t playing in the same hallowed space that others have. Now thinking of this being handed off to multiple additional generations to really safeguard that legacy and build upon it, that’s a really exciting part, too.”
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While UD Arena was built for basketball, it has served many other purposes over the years — Elvis performed there four times — and could play host to even more events in the years to come because of the improvements made over the last three years. The final phase of the renovations saw the expansion of the concourse on the arena’s west side, new locker rooms at court level, improved lighting over the court and a new media room.
Those were just a few of the final improvements. One of the most significant enhancements made during this phase was the addition of a climate-control system. Air conditioning will give UD the chance to use the venue more in the summer.
Jacquelyn Powell, president and CEO of the Dayton Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, said her team has been anxiously awaiting the climate-control system.
“Winter Guard International is probably the largest event we host in Montgomery County every year,” Powell said. “That event takes place over a couple weekends in April, and even in April, when you pack the arena, it can be challenging with the climate in there. This is is just a real wonderful addition to the arena.”
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First-year students often see the arena for the first time at a convocation ceremony in August, and it’s one of the last places they see during their four years because it hosts commencement ceremonies in May. Those two events will also benefit from air conditioning.
“In terms of the things we typically do there,” Spina said, “it’ll make it better and more comfortable for everybody.”
As far as atypical events go, UD will keep an eye on new possibilities.
“We certainly hope to attract more large-scale events over time,” Sullivan said. “We have a great partnership with the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and we’ve been actively engaged for a couple of years trying to find the opportunity to deliver events that can fit in the arena. We’re certainly not set up to be a major concert venue, and we’re not going to all of a sudden be hosting monster truck shows or something, but we certainly see an opportunity to host things similar to the Winter Guard: cheerleading, wrestling, gymnastics, obviously more basketball.”
Only two teams call UD Arena home: the Dayton men’s and women’s basketball teams. However, no venue in the nation has a better claim to being the home of the NCAA tournament than UD Arena.
There have been 125 NCAA tournament games held at UD Arena. Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo., ranks second in games hosted with 83, though it hasn’t hosted a game since 1964.
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With the First Four staying in Dayton through at least 2022, UD Arena will continue to distance itself from other venues in the number of games it has hosted. Terry Slaybaugh, chairman of the Big Hoopla Local Organizing Committee, hopes the arena improvements make keeping the First Four easier.
“Having a modern arena and facility is probably job No. 1 when we go after the tournament again,” Slaybaugh said. “There’s a lot of hard work that goes on by the local organizing committee to elevate the presence of the tournament in town, and we do a lot of great work in providing tickets to our military men and women at Wright-Patt Air Force Base, but we couldn’t accomplish any of that if we didn’t have the venue and the cooperation of the University of Dayton and their staff. Without the venue really, who are we with the First Four?”
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The bidding process has already begun for the 2023-2026 tournaments, Sullivan said, and he said the goal is to continue to host the First Four but to win the right to bring other rounds of the tournament to Dayton as well.
“We want to push as hard as we can to get as many basketball games as possible,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the opening of the arena this week is an important milestone that will be celebrated when the Dayton men’s team plays Indiana State in the regular-season opener Nov. 9. Although minor work will continue at the arena during the season, the start of this season marks the end of a long march that began five or six years ago with early talk of renovating the arena.
“You have a building pushing 50 years old,” Sullivan said. “You could go back really a decade to know we had to address some infrastructure issues. Beyond that, we knew we had to make some complex and tough decisions beyond infrastructure. How far do we go beyond infrastructure in terms of the various models we were choosing? It really picked up significant steam and (UD began) spending significant money studying that toward the tail end of 2014 and into 2015.”
UD hired Spina in September 2015, and he started his job the following July. The arena project has been a part of his life ever since.
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“This is a huge project,” he said. “This is the largest project of any kind the university has ever done in terms of total dollars and the duration of the project and in terms of complexity, so I think about all the people within the university and outside the university, from donors to contractors to specialists and architects and others. There’s really just a lot of pride that a great team pulled this off, and it further cements Dayton’s position nationally that this is a really special place to play basketball, to build community. It highlights the university in a way that I think should make us all proud.”
Despite the broad purpose of the arena renovation, the main goal was to help the basketball programs compete at a national level.
“It’ll be the elite college basketball venue in the country,” Sullivan said. “We specialize in basketball. That’s what we do. The arena, while we use it for other things, if you go back to the original history and how the seats were set up, everything was really built around basketball, and that hasn’t changed. We’re excited for our basketball program. At the end of the day, it’s a facility and environment that is intended to create a climate for success. We want to make sure the people inside the building — from the fans to the players to the coaches — are able to have an environment to achieve the success we are pursuing.”
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