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UA announces plans to renovate McKale Center

Rebecca Sasnett 2013
Rebecca Marie Sasnett/ Daily Wildcat UA President Ann Weaver Hart talks about stage one of the McKale renovation in the McKale center Monday. The new score board should be done this season and the new seats, floor and locker rooms should be done by next season.

When UA athletics director Greg Byrne was hired in 2010, he couldn’t help but notice how similar McKale Center was to his last visit in 1987.

That should all change soon.

On Monday, the UA announced that Tucsonans Cole and Jeannie Davis donated $6 million to initiate the first phase of renovations to McKale, and it plans for $80 million in renovations to the 40-year-old arena.

“This really got the ball rolling,” Byrne said. “They’ve donated in excess of $10 million to our program, and the amazing thing about it is that neither of them attended the University of Arizona. They’re both alums of other places, but they moved … and adopted our university; they’ve adopted our community.”

Phase I of the McKale renovation project will require $30 million. The UA has raised $12.6 million so far, and Byrne expects to get to $20 million in the next few weeks or month.

“Being an icon can be a compliment or a little bit of a problem,” said UA president Ann Weaver Hart. “So, we want McKale to be an iconic building with a new facelift.”

Jeannie Davis said they are big fans of Arizona basketball but also big fans of the university and like to give to the men’s basketball and football programs because they support “so many other programs.”

“That’s really the foundation for our support for this program, besides the fact that we just love it,” Jeannie Davis said.

Phase I will add all-new seats, a new floor, expanded restrooms and concessions, improved locker rooms and a new scoreboard, Byrne said.

“You don’t need a brand new facility to create a facility that’s world-class, and that creates the kind of atmosphere that we want to achieve and be part of the U of A experience,” Hart said.

The seats in the lower section will all be blue with a block “A” made out of red seats in the ZonaZoo, and the upper section will have red seats. All the lower seats will have padding except for the ZonaZoo, Byrne said.

He said the renovations will make more room for the other sports, and academic services will be expanded.

“In reality, this will benefit all 20 of our sports, all 450 of our student athletes and it will be a big step up for us in our facilities,” Byrne said.

Cole Davis said the process started when men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller was hired and he asked for money to improve the locker rooms and hallways of McKale. Then, the Richard Jefferson Gymnasium was built to help recruiting.

Now, Arizona is ranked No. 1.

“It has worked; take a look at where the basketball program is today and the recruits that we’ve had come in,” Cole Davis said. “Jeannie and I feel that this is just the beginning. Sean’s going to take the program where we’ve never seen it before, and that’s a tall order.”

Cole Davis said they see this as an “investment” – that they like helping the “kids,” but they also like to win.

Miller said he didn’t know where Arizona basketball would be without the Davises, and the new facilities make the school more attractive to recruits who visit during the summer, not necessarily during games.

While women’s basketball has struggled, it is currently 2-7; last month, it signed a top 25 recruiting class.

Women’s basketball head coach Niya Butts commented on the upgrades. “It is a direct result of being able to sit in the homes of and sit in front of these kids that have an opportunity to go to top 10, top 15 programs and say, ‘We have this coming,’” Butts said. “It has helped us tremendously with this class that is coming in.”

The first part of the project will be a new high-definition scoreboard, which will be 25 percent bigger than the current one and feature four 12-by-19 foot Panasonic video boards and two LED rings.

Men’s basketball starts conference play on Jan. 2, 2014 against Washington State.

The other parts of Phase I, pending Arizona Board of Regents approval, will start in May.

Byrne said capacity will be about the same, and they will lose some seats but fill in a couple of the corners. Players will enter from a tunnel in the south end.

Byrne said moving the student section is not likely.

“We’re looking at our other options,” Byrne said. “If I had to guess right now, we’d probably keep them in the same area where we are, but as we’re going through the design process, maybe there’s something that comes forward that makes some sense.”

Jeannie Davis said she hopes the donation will encourage others to give.

“This is only Phase I,” Hart said. “We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that we have a long-range plan and that we’re going to make it a reality.”

—Follow James Kelley @jameskelley520

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