The new McKale Center looks fantastic through one eye.
I can’t imagine what it would’ve looked like through two. The Taj Mahal? The Coliseum?
So for the sake of this article, we’ll borrow Arizona women’s basketball coach Niya Butts’ eyes for the day, considering one of mine is out of commission. Just minutes before a large media contingent was to tour McKale, in the midst of the $30 million Phase 1 portion of a planned $80 million renovation, I got something in my left eye.
Either a water buffalo or an antelope, I’m not sure, but it left me gazing into the business end of an eye-flushing kit, provided generously by site superintendent Brian Thompson, whom we’ll get back to later.
Suffice to say, I missed out on some stuff.
Butts did not.
“I’m in shock right now,” Butts said. “It’s like a kid on Christmas Day.”
Her mouth went agape as she saw the massive space for what will become her team’s locker room and lounge area, complete with a kitchenette — “It can truly be a home away from home for them,” Butts said — and the specific cutout for the coach’s room that will allow her players some privacy to bond. She oohed and aahed on the McKale Center floor, as she took pictures of what will become the Wildcats’ new entrance tunnel. Gone are the side entrances from the respective locker rooms, and in its place, a single centered tunnel, and you can just picture Rondae Hollis-Jefferson shimmying out of that.
She was intrigued by the new space for concessions, both inside the arena and out, some of the many new fan-specific upgrades that the building needed.
“I am completely floored,” Butts said. “This is amazing. The commitment our athletic department has made, the commitment our boosters have made to what we’re trying to do — they understand what it is we need in terms of recruiting. Our fan base, our kids are going to be so grateful from what we’ve seen here.”
If Butts was justifiably more concerned about the recruiting needs that will be addressed with the upgrades, UA athletic director Greg Byrne seemed to be more moved by the benefits to the paying customer. McKale will boast vastly improved restroom access, more seating and walking space and twice as many concession price points.
Byrne said Phase 1 of the renovation was roughly 30 percent done, and that the project was on schedule and on budget, and expected to be ready for opening when women’s volleyball begins in the fall. Phase Zero of the project was completed with the installation of a brand-new video board, which debuted January 2.
There have been some, well, “challenges we have to go through,” Byrne said.
“I just had (softball coach) Mike Candrea in my office and he was talking about the jackhammer he was listening to all morning,” Byrne said. “But as (basketball’s) Damon Stoudamire and Sean Miller and I have talked about, that’s a sign of progress, the sounds of progress.”
The sounds kept humming along on Tuesday morning during the tour, saws and drills and hammers creating a modern symphony. From what I heard, things are right on pace. From what I saw — not much — it looks like Byrne’s vision of a “brand-new arena” will come to fruition.
Instead, I relied on Butts and her vision for the future. It’s a big one.
“What we had, we could survive on it,” she said. “But when you’re talking an upgrade, you want to make sure when you’re talking to prospects and parents, they can clearly see the commitment that the athletic program and the supporters are making to the program.”
For now, it’s in the able hands of Thompson and Co., and if my eye can attest, it’ll turn out just fine.
I can see again. The solution worked out. For me.
Turns out Thompson once had a piece of metal stuck in his eye for more than a day. It required surgery, without anesthesia. But I don’t hear him complaining about it.
Maybe it’s all the noise.