UAA’s new sports arena have been rewritten, reworked, and redrafted more times than anyone cares to count. The plans began as an $80 million facility with a seating capacity of 3,600, and have since and evolved into a $109 million facility that will seat nearly six thousand. On June 3, the Board of Regents officially voted and approved the newest designs for the sports arena.
The current athletic center, the Wells Fargo Sports Complex, was built in 1978 when UAA was still a community college, and was made to accomodate a smaller student population. The university is concerned that with the growing student body however, the complex no longer has room to house Division I and Division II athletics, or have the seating needed for a larger amount of spectators.
Further motivation for the construction of a new arena came in 2008, in the form of a Title IX complaint from the Federal office of Civil Rights, claiming that the women’s athletic teams at UAA were not treated fairly.
Title IX states that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”
The complaint stated that the women had a single over-crowded locker room, that during games and practices the women seldom had a trainer to provide medical service, and that the quality of coaching was inadequate relative to the men’s.
The complaint sparked an investigation, which showed that the women did indeed have insufficient locker room space compared to the men’s teams, and that women rarely had trainers at practices due to female sports, with the exception of gymnastics, aren’t considered as dangerous. As for the lack of proficient coaching, UAA athletic director Steve Cobb was perplexed by the idea because many of UAA’s women coaches have received national awards and recognition for their coaching.
A “Complete the Arena” website and Facebook page were created stating various benefits of the new arena in hopes of gaining support in moving the project forward. Some of the benefits include the improvement of facilities for both women’s and men’s athletics, providing additional student recreation space, help to support UAA’s health, physical education and fitness curricula, and improve overall campus life.
Cobb, who has been involved in the planning process since the very beginning, is pleased with the approval of the new arena, “I believe it will transform our campus in a very positive way.”
The new sports arena will accommodate nearly six thousand spectators with parking lot space for eight hundred vehicles. Besides its main feature, the basketball court, the arena will also contain sports medicine facilities, a competition and performance arena, gymnastics practice facility, weight room, recreational fitness areas and larger locker rooms for both men and women.
The design feature that has been drawing the most criticism is the lack of a hockey rink. The debate has extended to include other students and alumni in the discussion.
“Six thousand seats for the basketball team is a joke. Might as well put a rink in the middle of it,” said student Tony Azzara.
The lack of a hockey rink has created some tension from Hockey players and ice skaters, because it forces them to continue using the outdated Wells Fargo Sports Complex to practice, and trek to the Sullivan Arena to compete.
“We as a division one hockey school need ice to play home games on, on our own campus. The best way to get more fans and more support is to play games on campus,” said UAA alumni Jared Nelson.
Despite this fact, Hockey player Quinn Sproule is optimistic about the new arena, “I think it’s great that the school is getting a new facility. I think it’s very important for the school to support Seawolf athletics. It would be nice though to have a rink on campus. I think it would really help the crowds for our games because students could just walk to the game instead of having to drive downtown to the Sullivan.”
Many other hockey teammates agree with Sproule, and despite the fact that they will not get a new rink, other facilities will be improved for them.
“I think that the new Sports Complex will be great for both the athletic department and the community. The current facilities just aren’t good enough. As far as it goes for hockey, I think that the hockey program will need its own arena on campus at some point in the future,” said fellow Hockey player Daniel Näslund.
“Seeing the venues we play in when we are playing in on the road it’s clear that we are years behind when it comes to facilities. To keep up with the fierce competition we face, facility upgrades will be necessary. The fact that the locker room both at the Sullivan and in the Wells Fargo is getting upgraded is definitely a much appreciated step in the right direction.”
While hockey may have to stay at the Sullivan for now, UAA’s other essential sporting event, Shootout, will be hosted in the new arena. This will hopefully spark some interest from students and fans that live nearby who will no longer have to fight for parking spaces to see the games.
Basketball players and gymnasts are excited at the chance to have a new venue to practice and compete in.
Senior Basketball player Hanna Johansson believes that it will have a positive impact on the University, “I heard about it for the first time in the end of my freshman year and I was hoping to play there. I definitively think it would improve UAA´s overall athletic image, don´t get me wrong I like what we have today, but I do think that a better gym allowing more people to come and watch also could help sports in Alaska.”
Not everyone in the community is enthusiastic about the price tag associated with this project, which is being supported by bonds approved by the legislature, and feel that the money could be better spent elsewhere.
UAA alumni and former athlete Erick Romig recently wrote, “UAA athletes, students and the Anchorage community have ample venues available for recreation and training.”
Whether excited or displeased with the schematics of the arena, many will not be able to experience it as a student because UAA’s vice chancellor for administrative services Bill Spindle stated that the arena is not scheduled to be complete until summer of 2014.
Even after the arena is built, The Wells Fargo Sports Complex will still retain physical education classes, swimming, ice skating, and hockey, leaving students and athletes worried that it will be left outdated.
Cobb assures students, “[There are] no plans yet but renovation of the WFSC is part of the plan.”
The biggest question now is: Will this $109 million arena improve UAA’s overall image, or will it be a money pit for the dwindling fan base due to economy pressures?