Construction workers at McKale Center are working double shifts until 3 a.m., seven days a week, in an attempt to have a $30 million remodeling project complete for Arizona’s Nov. 9 exhibition opener against Cal Poly Pomona.
More than 8,000 blue- cushion seats in the lower bowl, each with an A logo and cup holder, have been installed. So has the state-of-the-industry LED lighting system and a new court, the first at Arizona since 1997.
It is a notable change in terms of intimacy. By enclosing the south end, McKale now has the feel of a theater. After taking a tour of the arena last week, my reaction was that, unlike recent Pac-12 arena makeovers at Cal, Stanford and UCLA, the interior of 42-year-old McKale Center actually has a new personality.
Much of the heavy labor remains, such as constructing an elevator shaft to serve as a private entrance for players and coaches. The men’s and women’s locker rooms for basketball, and a new volleyball locker room, all include kitchenettes as part of the UA’s decision to spend about $600,000 a year to better serve their athlete’s nutritional needs.
The locker rooms, which aren’t close to completion, are not going to be appointed with Oregon/Nike excess but are spacious and will exhibit the UA’s basketball success of the last 30 years.
UA athletic director Greg Byrne and project coordinator Suzy Mason spent significant time reworking flow and traffic at the oft-gridlocked upper concourses and concessions services.
When McKale reopens, 43 concessions windows will be available. Last year, McKale had 20 concessions windows.
A few months after debuting the $72 million Lowell-Stevens Football Facility, Byrne decided not to wait a few years before launching a two-phase, $80 million makeover of McKale. Some ADs might’ve left that project to a successor.
Byrne’s aggressiveness can be traced to his days as an Oregon State fundraiser in the late 1990s. The Beavers, who were the class of Pac-10 basketball most of the 1980s, did not reinvest in Gill Coliseum. Today, Gill is, by far, the most antiquated basketball facility in the league. OSU hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 1990.
UA construction crews have three months to complete new restroom facilities, the upper seating areas, concession/concourse projects and other infrastructure.
And no one will get squeezed out. McKale Center’s capacity is expected to increase by about 120.