UF considering $50 million makeover for O'Connell Center


This image is one of several conceptual drawings showing planned renovations to the Stephen C. O'Connell Center presented at a University of Florida Board of Trustees meeting Thursday. (Image provided by UF)

Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 6:31 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 6:31 p.m.

The University of Florida's O'Connell Center might get a $50 million makeover, with the university paying a chunk of the cost.

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This image is one of several conceptual drawings showing planned renovations to the Stephen C. O'Connell Center presented at a University of Florida Board of Trustees meeting Thursday. (Image provided by UF)

UF trustees are expected to vote next week on whether the university should pay $10 million of the price tag, with the athletic association seeking donations to cover the rest. The arena's renovation is expected to include all new seating, club space, a new entrance, and more concessions and shops.

UF Chief Financial Officer Matt Fajack said the exact source of the university's $10 million contribution hasn't been determined, but it wouldn't be coming from tuition and state operating funds. UF would contribute because the center is used for student activities as well as athletics, he said.

"There are a number of educational activities that happen in the O'Connell Center," Fajack said. "It's not all just (University Athletic Association) activity."

The center, named after late UF president and Florida Supreme Court Justice Stephen C. O'Connell, was built in 1980 and has undergone a number of renovations over the years.

In addition to hosting sports such as basketball, volleyball and gymnastics, the center is used for concerts, commencement and other events.

A committee of trustees discussed the renovation project Thursday during a conference-call meeting. Trustee Alan Levine said he wanted the board to be kept in the loop if a donor was being considered to be part of the center's name to help fund the project.

"We don't want to have controversy around it, as we've had with some other namings," he said.

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said the project is still in the conceptual stage and that there are "absolutely no plans" to change the center's name. Ideas for the renovation include replacing retractable bleachers on the floor with permanent seating and adding club seating and boxes. The building's infrastructure would be upgraded and audio-visual systems added.

The project's timeline would be based on the success of fundraising. Levine said he wanted to make sure that if a donor was considered to share billing with O'Connell's name or be put on the outside of the center, that trustees knew before being asked to take a vote.

Levine said it has been discovered in the past after namings were announced that other donors were willing to contribute more than was ultimately given had they known naming rights were being considered, but he didn't provide specifics.

"I know many people who have withheld contributions to the university because of some past namings that were done," he said.

A number of universities have named courts of basketball arenas after former coaches or corporate donors while retaining longtime names for the arena as a whole. UF's football stadium is called Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, incorporating the name of the late citrus magnate and university benefactor while retaining the field's original title.

A Gator football complex that is part of the stadium is named after Full Sail University CEO James W. "Bill" Heavener, whose name also will adorn a new business building.

Trustee Al Warrington — the namesake of UF's business college — said he expected the university would address namings for the center in a similar way as the stadium.

"Obviously we don't want anything to take away from the O'Connell Center ... I've got to believe it will be done with a lot more finesse as we have done stuff in the stadium and several other projects, so that nobody gets embarrassed," he said.

Contact Nathan Crabbe at 338-3176 or nathan.crabbe@gvillesun.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/nathancrabbe.

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