McKale Center's renovation will take its first formal step next week, when the UA athletic department asks the Arizona Board of Regents to allow it to begin looking for an architect.
Finalizing the proposed $80 million project, based loosely on a 2009 master plan commissioned by former UA Athletic Director Jim Livengood, would still need further regents approval.
"We're in the early process, and one of the things you have to do is to hire an architect and begin the planning and design for it," UA Athletic Director Greg Byrne said.
"We're asking permission from the board to move forward with that."
The renovation would upgrade spectator chairs and add new premium seating, wheelchair seating and concourses for the 14,545-seat arena, according to board documents.
The UA could consider a club level, though not necessarily luxury boxes, to increase revenue.
The 39-year-old building has "insufficient" access, restrooms, concessions and points of sale, according to the documents, that would be fixed by the renovation.
"What used to be acceptable is not acceptable today," said Peter Dourlein, the UA assistant vice president of planning, design and construction. "That's not life or death, but that's certainly part of the fan experience."
Renovation planning began in July, according to regents' documents. Design would begin in March.
Construction, done in two phases to allow McKale Center to remain open, would begin in June 2014 and be completed by summer 2017.
The UA will also ask for approval of the $18.5 million South Stadium Parking Structure, which will provide 900 spaces for dorm residents and game attendees just east of the Student Recreation Center. Construction would run from December 2013 to September 2014.
The board's Business and Finance Committee will discuss the plans Wednesday morning on the UA campus.
Regents will examine them Thursday afternoon.
Lorenzo Martinez, the regents' associate vice president for finance and administration, said the committee looks at two factors.
"Is the project justified? Does the university make a good case?" he said. "And, two, is the cost reasonable for the project of that size?"
The UA plans to issue $80 million in System Revenue Bonds for the McKale Center project. The athletic department is responsible for paying off the debt through private gifts and revenue.
Renovation will be possible once football staffers create space by moving to the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility at Arizona Stadium next year. McKale Center would likely "expand horizontally" toward outdoor concourses, Dourlein said.
The arena's $80 million renovation cost was based on an estimated $181 per 322,789 gross square feet.
UA analysis found recent renovations of The Pit at New Mexico, Crisler Center at Michigan and Pauley Pavilion at UCLA to all be more expensive than its proposed plan.
Byrne has discussed remodeling McKale Center since arriving in 2010.
Last year, he briefly weighed a downtown arena but said he never had "serious" discussions about it.
On StarNet: For historic photos of McKale Memorial Center, go to azstarnet.com/gallery