Arena proposal more than just a sports decision

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By Nate Tenopir

 

UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts, Chancellor John Christensen and their team will be presenting ideas for an on campus arena to the Nebraska Board of Regents on Friday.  But the idea they’ll be presenting is  more than just a sports idea.

“This is a Division I institutional decision,” Alberts said.  “You’ve got hockey in the arena, [a] facility for convocation, student usage [and] classes through HPER.  This isn’t just the university’s hockey arena.”

The proposal that’s been discussed in the media is for 7,500 seats at a cost of $65 million to $80 million.  The arena will be built in the 67th and Center Streets area, just south of the Aksarben entertainment district and UNO’s south campus.

In addition to its primary function as a university owned hockey arena, men’s basketball, women’s basketball and volleyball would also play their games at the facility.  Alberts and Christensen told the Omaha World Herald that fundraising efforts are far enough along that they felt comfortable making the proposal now.

“Just think about this university, where it’s been, where it’s going [and] where it currently is,” Alberts said.  “Think about 7,500, or so, arena seats slam bam right down there in Aksarben Village all full of UNO branding.  I don’t think you think the same way about UNO anymore.”

Plans are to build the arena with two sheets of ice so that the university can host multiple events at the same time.  The basketball and volleyball programs wouldn’t have to wait to take turns for practice like they do now in the Sapp Fieldhouse.

Dean Blais and the hockey program would no longer have to alternate practice between CenturyLink Center, the Civic Auditorium and the Motto McLean Ice Arena.

“If you have one sheet of ice then you’re limited to just hockey there,” Alberts said.  “It would be pretty tough to practice volleyball, basketball, all that with just one sheet of ice.  A second sheet is pretty critical.”

Alberts says that all of this can happen without putting any of the cost on the public.  Outside of using the city of Omaha to improve roads around the proposed site, UNO plans to raise the money on its own.

If completed, the facility could be a financial boon for the university.  Under UNO’s current contract with its current home ice arena, CenturyLink Center, the university makes nothing off concessions or parking.

The hockey program already makes over 90 percent of the athletics budget.  If set free from the restraints of the CenturyLink Center the possibilities could be endless.

“We need to have success.  We need to show a commitment to it,” Alberts said about the hockey program.  “You can’t talk about chasing excellence, you have to take the steps to get it.”

Alberts said that CenturyLink Center provides the program a platform that’s difficult to match in college hockey.  It’s the second largest arena in college hockey and the Mavs regularly rank in the top five in national attendance.

But at over 17,000 seats, fans don’t feel the pressure to buy tickets early or invest in season tickets.  UNO sells a couple thousand in season tickets, gives about the same amount of seats away and depends on walk up sales for the rest.

If fans know they can walk up and get a seat for every game it makes it hard to convince the public to buy season tickets.

“If we get approved by the board we can have a real home ice advantage,” Alberts said.  “The CenturyLink Center is such a great facility but we just don’t have a home ice advantage there because it’s so large and it’s not real loud.  A compacted, built for hockey, just loud arena…that would be really exciting.”

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