Administrators, coaches discuss Welsh-Ryan renovations at press conference


Source: Northwestern Athletics

A conceptual rendering of the refurbished Welsh-Ryan Arena. On Monday, the athletic department announced renovations to the arena that would begin following the 2016-2017 basketball season.

Max Schuman, Assistant Summer Editor

When University President Morton Schapiro began his tenure at Northwestern, he dreamed of giving Welsh-Ryan Arena, first opened in 1952, a makeover. At Thursday’s press conference, held by the athletic department to announce upcoming major renovations to the arena, he said that dream is becoming a reality.

“I never thought it would come, but it came, and it came fast,” Schapiro said.

On Monday, the athletic department announced the renovations in a press release, estimated to cost over $110 million and take place between March 2017 and the fall of 2018. Athletic director Jim Phillips said the plans to refurbish the arena have been discussed over the past 16 to 18 months prior to this week’s announcement.

Phillips discussed some potential specific changes to the arena, including additional restrooms and concession areas, a new club level with suites and improvements to team locker rooms and offices. But he didn’t say how the renovations would impact seating capacity, currently at 8,117 officially, and said the plans for the arena haven’t been finalized yet.

“We’re still continuing to design it,” he said. “The ink hasn’t completely dried.”

The renovations won’t be a full rebuild of Welsh-Ryan, Phillips said, and he mentioned older, refurbished facilities like Pauley Pavilion at UCLA and Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas as models for their designs. Men’s basketball coach Chris Collins said the atmosphere at the updated arena will be familiar to fans.

“We didn’t want to lose the character,” he said. “People have nice things, but sometimes those become sterile.”

Collins and women’s basketball coach Joe McKeown both said the renovated facilities would boost their teams’ recruiting efforts and have already generated positive buzz with recruits and high school coaches. Over the past several days since the announcement, Collins said the pitch to potential recruits of getting a chance to open the refurbished arena has been an “eyebrow-raiser.”

Phillips said no final decisions have been made to find homes for the teams displaced by the renovations during the 2017-2018 school year. But while he declined to discuss specific venues at the press conference, Phillips said there has been a lot of interest from locations in the Chicagoland area and mentioned possibly using multiple venues for home games and matches while Welsh-Ryan is closed.

With Welsh-Ryan long seen as inferior to other arenas in the Big Ten, both the coaches and the administrators who spoke at Thursday’s press conference said the renovations were a big step for the Wildcats.

“This will be a seismic change for our fans,” Phillips said. “We are building Welsh-Ryan Arena into one of the finest indoor venues in all of college athletics.”

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