published Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

UTC's McKenzie Arena upgrade set for June start

A view of McKenzie Arena's interior.
A view of McKenzie Arena's interior.

In the works for a couple of years, renovations at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's McKenzie Arena will begin in June. That's when the retractable, lower-level seating will be replaced in the Roundhouse, which opened in December 1982.

"It's going to mess up a lot of camps, but as soon as the graduation commencements are done, that's when we hope construction will start," interim athletic director Laura Herron said.

The upgrade at McKenzie Arena is one of numerous projects planned for UTC athletics. The university's campus master plan, put together this year, includes a football building as well as a track/soccer facility and tennis courts near Engel Stadium.

The new lower-level seating at the arena will seat a total of 2,015, one fewer than the current bowl.

"Our students are going to be happy and they're going to be closer to the action," said UTC's director of athletic training Todd Bullard, who also is overseeing the athletic department's projects. "We also want to provide a phenomenal experience to our donors and constituents, who do so much to support our basketball Mocs. I think this puts us in a really good position to do that."

UTC's athletic offices on the fourth floor of McKenzie have been bulging at the seams for years. There are desks in the hallway, the football team overflows into the hall during position meetings and Herron even has boxes of T-shirts stored in her office.

The first step in easing the overcrowding is with a football building, which is planned for the parking lot across the street from the arena, near the Blood Assurance building. UTC is in the process of having renderings created by the firm Perkins+Will and hopes to begin the fundraising process as soon as possible.

"We're kind of in a holding pattern," said Andrew Horton, senior associate athletic director for development and sales. "What excites people is being able to see what a project looks like."

UTC would like for the football building to house offices, meeting rooms, an equipment room, a training room and maybe a strength and conditioning area. Mocs football coach Russ Huesman said a building is needed, both for day-to-day functions and because it matters in recruiting.

"[Nice facilities] show that it's important to us, whether it's football or basketball or whatever," Huesman said. "They show that in this athletic department, we do everything we can to make this the best program in the country. That's what you say: Look at the commitment we're making to make this the best possible place to come to school."

In the Southern Conference, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Samford, Elon and Furman have all completed or announced plans for new football buildings in the past few years.

Bullard said the football building could cost $8-18 million.

UTC has been without a full-time athletic director since Rick Hart left for SMU in July. A new AD may be hired by March -- UTC has to hire a new chancellor first -- and fundraising for the football building and other projects will be a big part of his or her job from the get-go.

"The new AD, that's going to be top priority for them because we've got plans for a track/soccer facility and the football building," Herron said. "Way off in the future, do we need to move the tennis courts? Because in the campus master plan [the tennis facility next to the arena] is where possible housing would be."

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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