New Arena a Once in a Lifetime Opportunity
Randy York’s N-Sider
Wednesday was a 12-12-12 day ... a cold Dec. 12, 2012 date that had dozens and dozens of civic leaders and movers and shakers who commemorated the last steel beam in a Pinnacle Bank Arena that will open its doors in the fall of 2013. The Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball teams will be the anchor tenants in the arena that promises not only to change Lincoln’s skyline and accelerate its tourist ratio, but also transform the course of a Nebraska men’s program that is one of only two BCS schools never to win a game in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
After Lincoln’s mayor, Nebraska’s governor, a city councilman, a board of regent member, the CEO of the construction company and the president of the Chamber of Commerce eloquently described the importance of the new arena, a soon-to-be-retired athletic director delivered the topping off ceremony’s shortest speech. Then, the building’s last steel beam was hoisted to the top, replete with a lighted Christmas tree and an American flag on its wings, to complement a Husker/Blackshirt banner hanging in the middle.
As a huge crane carried the beam to the roof with its 3,000 signatures from workers, fans, civic leaders and well-wishers, Nebraska’s pep band played the touchdown version of There Is No Place like Nebraska while 14 members of the Big Red Cheer Squad and Herbie Husker added their own twist to a unique pageantry. How else would you celebrate such a milestone for a Capital City, a Big Ten Conference University and Nebraska’s first major arena designed specifically for basketball?
Pinnacle Bank Arena Made for Basketball
“In designing an arena, you really can hit a fork in the
road when you have to make a determination about which way to go in a multi-use
facility,” said Stan Meradith, a
York, Neb., native, a principal for DLR Group in Kansas City and the chief
architect for the Pinnacle Bank Arena.
When the now CenturyLink Center was being built as the Qwest arena and convention center in Omaha, architects built sight lines geared primarily for hockey, according to Meradith. “In building Pinnacle Bank Arena, we decided early on that the sight lines would be made clearly for basketball. That’s what (Nebraska AD) Tom Osborne and (executive associate AD) Marc Boehm clearly wanted, and that’s what makes this arena different.”
Boehm is eager to credit the City of Lincoln for collaborating with Nebraska Athletics on a basketball-first mindset. “When we met three years ago, we wanted first and foremost to make this a great basketball experience for fans,” he said. “We wanted everyone to have a great seat and everyone to be right on top of the action. Stan Meradith and his team went straight to work and established the goal to make the fans the No. 1 priority, so every time they’d sit in their seats, their sight lines would make them feel up close and personal.”
Osborne: Facility a Major Recruiting Asset
In his remarks at the topping off ceremony, Osborne said the arena will include prime seats for students both at mid-court and behind baskets to “give Tim Miles and Connie Yori and their teams a good home-court advantage,” he said, adding that people would be right on top of the action, and the facility would become a major asset for recruiting.
“When I stood in the arena at today’s ceremony and saw the decks that will make the place so intimate for basketball, it reminded me of the Breslin Center at Michigan State, which is one of those arenas where the fans really are right on top of you,” Miles said. “As I sat there, I just kept thinking that this is going to be as good as anything we have to compete against or anyplace we get to play. Pinnacle Bank Arena is going to be a very special place.”
Boehm points to a loud and raucous remodeled Gallagher Hall at Oklahoma State as a benchmark. Meradith’s team made visits to Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse and Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium to analyze sightlines that appeal to both renowned and respected fan bases. “We’ve tried to incorporate their fan experience as much as we can in terms of watching a game into what we designed,” Meradith said.
A Reward for a Faithful, Patient Fan Base
A new arena is a welcome reward for a faithful and patient fan base. “I love our fans,” Boehm said. “We have the greatest fans. We draw 7,000 or 8,000 fans no matter what, and let’s make no mistake about it. We’ve had some hard times. But with our practice facility at the Hendricks (Training Complex) and this new arena, we have an opportunity to recruit and really get rolling. With facilities like this, we can become a top-notch program, and no one deserves that more than our men’s and women’s fans.”
Yori said it’s not that teams can’t win championships without superlative facilities. “It’s just that now we have a better chance to do that,” she said.
Instead of looking back at what Nebraska hasn’t been able to accomplish, Miles prefers to look ahead and envision what can be achieved. “There’s not a better time to be a Nebraska basketball fan than now,” he said. “We have a chance to create our own destiny and with the training complex and the new arena we can create our own tradition. They give us the opportunity to experience the most exciting time we’ve ever had. We just have to go to work and recruit the kind of players who are hard-working enough and talented enough to do it. At the same time, we have to cultivate our fan base and coach our players.”
Ubel: Miles Will Get Nebraska on Track
Brandon Ubel introduced Miles at the Huskers Athletic Fund luncheon Wednesday shortly after the topping off ceremony in the West Haymarket Area. After the luncheon, the Husker senior said Miles is “the right leader to get Nebraska where we want to go” because “it takes a different kind of guy to be successful, and he’s a different kind of guy. He and his entire coaching staff have the energy and the enthusiasm to do what it takes. They really love what they do.
“We’re unbelievably excited about everything that’s happening,” Ubel said. “We want to close out the Devaney Center right this year, so fans can attach themselves to what’s going to be there next year when we open the new arena with a new age of basketball. That’s something that can’t be understated at all. Things are changing here, and they’re changing for the better.”
Meradith said the Devaney Center was “a good venue” but cannot come close to matching the intimacy of the new arena “where people will be in a deck hovering over the court,” he said. “I’ve been in this industry for 26 years, and I’ve seen a new venue give a program some oomph lots of times.”
Is This The Perfect Storm for Miles, Yori?
A new spring practice facility, for instance, became the catalyst for the Minnesota Twins to win the 1991 World Series. “They were last in their division the season before, and once they built that facility they went from worst to first,” Meradith said. “Someone wrote a book about how important it was for that team to have new surroundings. We really want this new arena to help transform Nebraska basketball. Hopefully, this new venue will create the perfect storm for Tim Miles and Connie Yori. One program’s already nationally relevant, and this could be what it takes for the other one to get there.”
Approached after Wednesday’s donor luncheon in Nebraska’s West Stadium, Miles said he sees a correlation between facilities and success. “There has to be an enzyme that starts the action,” he said. “The idea was to re-invigorate the Haymarket, so let’s build a new basketball facility. Let’s wipe the board clean and start new. You look at other places where they say ‘Build it and we will come’, and it has to be a special place.”
The new practice facility and the new arena are a package that Miles describes as an “unbelievable assist in recruiting.”
It’s All about Prospects, Fans, Commitment
“First, fans see prospects and prospects see progress,” Miles said. “They see commitment. They see tangible things and say ‘Wow! This means something!’ And it’s not just bricks and mortar. It’s the fans. Once they get inside that place and feel the vigor, they become part of the excitement first-hand, and they know how to make the experience even more special.
“The Pinnacle Bank Arena is set up for success,” Miles said. “It’s going to be an amazing fan experience to play in front of amazing home crowds in an amazing facility. When you have fans and you have talented student-athletes that recognize the progress you’re making, they’re going to want to compete in an exciting new endeavor like this. If good coaches can recruit and organize all of it, it can be a wonderful thing. I expect it to be a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we’re going to give everything we have in us to be successful.”
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