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COLUMN

Assembly Hall redone -- feel the buzz

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For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Is renovation in basketball arena's future?

Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 11:05 am

BLOOMINGTON -- An Indiana University buzz is building about, well, building.

Could that mean a renovated Assembly Hall, plus a new facility for wrestling and volleyball?

You bet it could.

Hoosier Athletic Director Fred Glass is not a guy locked into the status quo. He's always looking to improve, enhance and entice. He is, after all, the person responsible for IU now having the nation's tallest college flagpole, new baseball and softball stadiums, a really big and cool football scoreboard and, well, a bunch of other stuff.

For decades there has been a push to replace Assembly Hall, which is visually striking, competitively intimidating and fan unfriendly -- at least for those seated high above the basketball court.

Construction started in the late 1960s from plans conceived in the late 1940s off a design based, in essence, on a barn.

But we digress.

Glass understands Assembly Hall's drawbacks as well as its advantages (think Christian Watford and beating Kentucky). He also understands the cost of building a new arena (basically the same price as one A-Rod!) and all the headaches involved while it's being built.

Thus, you have thoughts of a major Assembly Hall renovation. That doesn't mean gutting it (there's only so much you can do with the balconies and steeply sided stands that brings fans close to experiencing what Nik Wallenda did while tightrope walking across the Grand Canyon), but enhancing it. Adding, say, corporate suites (boosting revenue is never a bad idea) and creating a new, cool exterior (think Cook Hall's glass front).

Also under consideration: closing in the scoreboard side of Memorial Stadium to create a true bowl effect while adding a new athletic training table area, offices and more.

Then there is the necessity of a new home for wrestling and volleyball. Those sports use University Gym, which eventually will be swallowed up by IU's technology park. Let's just say the wrestling facilities are not cutting edge, although the coach is Duane Goldman, who wrestled for Olympic legend Dan Gable and trains by chopping wood.

But, again, we digress.

Glass isn't ready to discuss the specifics -- hey, that's what sources are for! -- until money is raised and plans finalized. But he's a transparent guy who doesn't work cloaked in secrecy.

So here's what he can say:

“We are getting close to starting a new capital campaign with a lot of new, exciting projects we're not prepared to announce publicly.”

OK, that's not exactly a BIG REVELATION in the manner of, say, naming the new contestants for "Dancing With the Stars" (we were rejected for the 17th straight season, by the way), but he's just warming up.

“It's always been my position that I prefer to keep Assembly Hall the way it is. I'm not an advocate for replacing Assembly Hall. I do think there are things we can do to enhance the experience of Assembly Hall short of a new building.

“If, and when, we go in that direction, I'm confident it won't be with a new Assembly Hall. That's $300 million I would think to do something like that. It would suck the oxygen out of everything that we were doing.

“And then it's awful tough to build a building and not have it look like everybody else's building. Notwithstanding some of the challenges and idiosyncrasies of Assembly Hall, it's still a venerable, iconic building.

“An opposing player or coach feels like Gen. Custer looking up at all the students yelling down at you. I think it's a competitive advantage. I don't anticipate a new Assembly Hall. I wouldn't ignore the possibility we might be able to improve it.”

Glass did say it's possible to make Assembly Hall more fan friendly.

“We started the ball rolling with the railings. The place is 40 years old and seemed to be begging for railings. We got that done, which has helped dramatically. Certainly a goal would be to improve the accessibility.”

Figure $75 million will get everything rolling again, although that wouldn't be the final price tag. You could get 75 million people to donate a dollar and make it work. Or, you could find one person with $75 million and a generous, Cream and Crimson-loving nature. Or, well, one way or another, it's gonna get done, perhaps sooner than the entire Interstate 69 Evansville-to-Indy project.

How's that for a buzz?

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.