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Facelift: $6 million donation kick-starts spring renovation of McKale Center

A rendering of what McKale Center will look like next season. Courtesy Arizona Athletics

A rendering of what McKale Center will look like next season. Courtesy Arizona Athletics

McKale Center, turning 41 in February, has been showing its age.

In basketball-facility years, this is more than a mid-life crisis. The University of Arizona’s arena, originally topped with a copper ring that faded to brown, needs more than fresh paint and new lighting.

The building is too cramped. The concession areas and restrooms need expansion. What’s with those yellow seats near the top? The court itself is too old. The videoboard looks like a relic. There is a never-ending need to keep up with other top programs.

Sure, the building still rocks when Tucson’s favorite team is playing basketball, but McKale no longer “pops.”

So, forget about cosmetics. Bring on the heavy machinery.

Arizona has a plan — and now the seed money — to make McKale pop again.

The athletic department announced Monday a $6 million gift from Tucsonans Cole and Jeannie Davis, helping Arizona launch the first phase of what will be an $80 million renovation project.

“We want McKale to be an iconic building with a new facelift,” university president Ann Weaver Hart said at a press conference.

This phase, pegged at about $30 million, will:

–Replace every seat in McKale.

–Instill a new court.

–Expand concession and restroom areas.

–Create a new women’s basketball locker room, new video rooms for each basketball program, a new coaches’ locker room for men’s basketball, and a new player’s lounge.

Some of the space for all this is available because the football coaches abandoned their McKale offices when they moved into the new Lowell-Stevens facility at Arizona Stadium this summer.

Work on phase 1 is scheduled to begin in May should be finished (or very nearly so) by the start of next season, Byrne said.

A new high-definition videoboard will be in place before the men’s basketball home Pac-12 opener against Washington State on Jan. 2.

“This next phase, it will benefit all of our sports 100 times over,” basketball coach Sean Miller said. “Talking about basketball, it will put us on course, I think, to compete for a national championship and to be able to compare ourselves with the other elite college basketball programs.

“The meaning is the next 25 years. I think when you walk into McKale in the future, you’re going to sense that today is one of the great moments in our athletic department’s recent history.”

Miller’s team, ranked No. 1 for the second consecutive week, is competing for a national championship this season. Trace that back to recruiting, to upgraded locker rooms and coaches’ offices, to a dedicated weight room and training area in the Richard Jefferson Gym, to the Richard Jefferson Gym itself.

Trace it all the way back to money, which is where the Davises come in.

They donated $1 million for the construction of the Jefferson Gymnasium and $2.65 million toward the weight room/locker room project. Their total donation to the athletic department is around $10 million.

“We, as individual philanthropists, believe in supporting youth in all their endeavors, not just at the university but at many other charities in town as well,” Jeannie Davis said.

“What we really like about supporting the two main money raisers at Arizona — basketball and football — is that it supports so many other programs. … That’s really the foundation for our support of this program. Besides the fact that we just love it.”

Arizona has about $12.5 million committed from major donors for phase 1 and “in the next few weeks or month, I think that number is going to move past $20 million,” athletic director Greg Byrne said.

Byrne said he wakes up each morning with the thought of, “What can I do to get better” in all phases of his life.

“That’s got to be the same approach we have in our program,” Byrne said.

“Every day we have to continue to develop who we are and get better. That goes with our facilities. McKale is 40 years old and it’s at the point where it needs work.”

The next phases for the project could include an enclosure over the outside concourses, creating much more space for concessions and restrooms. The phase 1 improvements in those areas are short-term fixes, Byrne said.

“What we’re trying to do is have the benefits be for our fans and also have the benefits be for our student athletes, and have a balance there in this first phase,” Byrne said.

The lower bowl of McKale will feature padded blue seats. The upper tier of McKale will be a full wave of red seats. The arena currently has blue seats starting at floor level, several rows of red seats before the walkway, blue seats on the upper tier and yellow seats at the top on the east and west sides.

The seating area for the Zona Zoo in the lower bowl will have red seats configured to make a big block “A” logo.

McKale’s capacity will remain nearly the same, although somewhat differently configured on the south side. The athletic department will fill in the tunnels on the southeast and southwest corners with seating, while carving out a new tunnel behind the south basket that leads to the renovated team areas.

The videoboard, at a cost of a more than $1 million, is about 25 percent larger than the current one, featuring four 12-by-19 foot screens plus two LED rings.

“You’ll be surprised when you have a new scoreboard and digital boards on the side,” Miller said. “Just that alone will make the arena look a lot different.”

It might, in fact, pop.

And that’s just the beginning of the McKale makeover.

NOTES: Will old seats in McKale go up for sale when the new ones are installed? “We will sell anything,” Hart said. Stay tuned for details. … Byrne said he is open to any pitches for naming rights for the basketball arena, adding that “McKale” would always be a part of the name in any case. … The court design will remain similar, Byrne said, with a big block “A” in the middle and the words “Lute and Bobbi Olson Court” written on it. … Miller said the current hardwood is 17 years old, which would be at least a few years past typical usage.

From left, women's basketball coach Niya Butts, men's basketball coach Sean Miller, Cole Davis, Jeannie Davis, UA president Ann Weaver Hart, athletic director Greg Byrne. Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics.

From left, women’s basketball coach Niya Butts, men’s basketball coach Sean Miller, Cole Davis, Jeannie Davis, UA president Ann Weaver Hart, athletic director Greg Byrne. Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics.

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