Towson goes for upgrade

School hopes renovation of arena boosts programs

December 13, 2006|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun reporter

Towson Center is more gymnasium than college arena, with its bleacher seats and portable wooden floor. The building has limited air conditioning, frills are few and congestion in the lobby is almost gridlock.

Aside from that, it's been a great place for Towson University to play basketball the past 30 seasons.

But after a decade of weak teams for both men and women, the Tigers are embarking on a bold new era. By the time the 2008-09 basketball season starts, the university hopes to have completed a renovation of the facility that could cost as much as $30 million and that it hopes will invigorate the entire athletic program.

Dr. Robert L. Caret, university president and inspiration behind the project, wants the makeover to give Towson "the kind of program we need to be the kind of institution we're going to become."

Pat Kennedy, a venerated program-builder who was hired two years ago to work his magic at Towson, has a specific model in mind.

It's the intimate yet distinct atmosphere of Duke University, perhaps mecca for the college game.

"I want our facility to be the Cameron Indoor Stadium of our conference," Kennedy said. "You don't have to have 12,000-13,000 seats. If you get 5,000 in every night, you can have a high-quality tone to it. That'd be really important."

Kennedy doesn't aspire to have the biggest arena in the Colonial Athletic Association, just one of the best. The Patriot Center at George Mason is the CAA's biggest facility, with a seating capacity of 10,000.

Although the redesign of Towson Center is still in the conceptual stage and the board of regents has yet to sign off on the project, the picture that emerges from Towson officials is that of a dramatic renovation.

The basketball floor itself will be rotated 90 degrees for better use of arena space, and it will be surrounded on four sides by seats, most of which figure to have enhanced views.

Larger concourses

The lobby entrance will be enlarged and fans will enter the arena from what is now the mezzanine level, walking down to their seats instead of up.

There will be room for entertaining VIPs and guests, possibly two or three suites, expanded concourses, more and better concessions, improved restrooms, a press room and new scoreboards with video capability. On top of that, the strength room and locker rooms will be upgraded.

Better yet - from a cost perspective - all this will be accomplished without razing the Towson Center roof. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2008.

"The entire interior of the arena will be completely redone," said Jack Nye, the university's director of facilities planning. "One of the objectives is to increase seating capacity from between 400 and 600 seats."

Towson Center seats a little fewer than 5,000 fans, but with the renovation should accommodate up to 5,400. "That's a good size for us, especially from a multi-use perspective," Nye said.

Xavier model

He stressed that the university still will host high school graduations, concerts and other public events in the building.

The redesign is one of the top priorities for Towson's new director of athletics, Mike Hermann, who was associate AD at Xavier University in Cincinnati when it starting building the $46 million Cintas Center, which opened in 2000.

"The Cintas Center really helped put that program on the map and gave it a first-class college basketball venue," Hermann said. "And it gave the program some stability and recruiting strength."

It is precisely what Hermann is looking for as the Tigers attempt to compete on a higher level in the CAA, especially in basketball. Last season, the CAA's George Mason became the Cinderella mid-major team of the NCAA tournament.

"Having success in basketball is critical to our overall success," Hermann said. "In the league we're in, basketball is definitely the flagship sport, and we need to carry that banner strongly in the Baltimore community."

On the court

That's the charge of Kennedy on the men's side and Joe Mathews on the women's.

When Kennedy was hired, Towson had had one winning season in the previous 10. With Kennedy having no chance to recruit in 2004, his first team went 5-24. Last year, his team was 12-16. This season, it is off to a 5-3 start, including the school's first victory at William and Mary.

"We have had a buzz and excitement level [at home this season] that was nonexistent," Kennedy said. "Nothing against the Lehighs of the world, but it was like watching Lehigh; students were reading books while the game was going on."

Kennedy has changed that by upgrading the product, putting seats at courtside for the first time and holding pre- and post-game receptions.

Mathews is in his sixth year as coach of the women's team and has taken the Tigers from two wins in his first season to 16 in 2004-05. Hurt by injuries last year, Towson slipped to 9-19.

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