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The New Thrillerdome

Oct. 31, 2010

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

The topic was Georgia Tech’s new basketball arena, which will be hailed as Hank McCamish Pavilion, and when athletics director Dan Radakovich was talking about it the other day he seemed genuinely pleased when he said, “The building is undergoing such an extreme makeover . . . the only thing missing is Ty Pennington and his crew.”

Clearly pleased at his ability to invoke a popular culture figure and deploy the television show as a metaphor for what’s about to happen on The Flats, Radakovich was spot on. Look at some of the renderings, and it’s difficult not to be impressed — especially within the framework of the $45 million price tag for what will be a basketball arena rather than a do-a-little-bit-of-everything building.

That’s a very important distinction.

Tech would not be looking at busting up Alexander Memorial Coliseum after next season and building a replacement facility on the site in time for the 2012-’13 season at this time if not for key economic conditions and a $15 million gift from Hank McCamish (IM `50) ear-marked for a basketball arena.

At first, second, third and all other glances, $45 million might seem a modest budget. That’s because it is when compared to some other recently opened arenas. Louisville, for example, is in a new $238 million facility, where the Cardinals can host a crowd of around 22,000 for basketball.

But that’s a multi-purpose facility. Radakovich and Tech officials have something quite different in mind to replace AMC. McCamish, for example, will not have suites but rather a club that will accommodate up to 500 or so people. Overall seating capacity will be around 8,900 or a little more than Duke.

“We really thought about major college arenas that are basketball-only and most of them do not have suites,” Radakovich said. “It’s only the multi-purpose facilities [like N.C. State, Louisville, etc.]. Basketball is not a sport that lends itself to suites because of the shortness of events.

“At that decision point, we said let’s go with a club that has multi [small scale] uses during the week. This is a basketball building. It is not being re-done to be a concert facility or another venue because we live in a wonderful city that has a number of those opportunities right now.

“It’s important to us that this facility maintains its use as a spot for commencement, key note speakers that come to campus, but to transform that into a concert facility would have taken that $45 million cost and perhaps doubled it.”

Radakovich said Tech is negotiating with Philips Arena and Gwinnett Arena to host the Yellow Jackets while construction is under way during the 2011-’12 season.

When McCamish Pavilion opens, it will retain the current domed ceiling in AMC, and the Zelnak practice facility adjacent to AMC will remain.

Pretty much everything else will be gone.

“Zelnak really added to it. The fact we are building a brand new arena is great for recruiting, and fans and alumni the in-game experience is going to be much improved, and that’s one of the things in women’s basketball that has been lacking,” said women’s coach MaChelle Joseph.

“I think that’s a tremendous asset. Dan Radakovich has just done a tremendous job of improving all our facilities in a short period of time.”

The façade of the Pavilion as it faces 10th and Fowler will be dramatically different (see renderings), as the architecture firm of Populus has worked to create curb appeal.

“One of the things that was important to us is that we create a front door,” Radakovich said. “That main entrance will be at that corner. We will also have two other entrances, one at the parking lot in the back and Fowler Street, which will be our student entrance.

“[Inside], we wanted to open up the concourse area so that you’ll know you’re in a basketball arena, you’ll kind of get a sense of orientation. Right now, it’s very difficult to know where you are in relation to the court. The concourse will be open for about 270 degrees. We will have an upper deck, where we will house about 1,800 seats.”

Former Tech coach William Alexander’s legacy will remain part of the basketball facility, as the “Alexander Courtyard” will be on the western side of the Pavilion complete with a bust of Alexander, and a plaque with significant events that occurred inside the Coliseum.

“All seats will have chair backs, including some bench seating behind goals. That’s where student seating will be placed. Also, we will have a center-hung scoreboard and also have a complete circle of message boards around the upper deck area,” Radakovich said.

If you have a few bucks, and you want to get your name on the building, it’s too late for that but naming rights within the building will be available.

“Bobby Cremins Court” is virtually certain to remain intact.

Timing is essential here, and tight economic conditions have actually worked for Tech rather than against it, said Radakovich.

“We did an analysis of what it was going to cost us over the next seven to 10 years to maintain the Coliseum without doing this,” he said. “The numbers came back somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 million to $18 million. Right now, that’s unfunded.

“When we had the opportunity and the generosity of this [McCamish] gift along with the competitive construction market that we’re in right now as well as some very good financial terms that are out there right now, the convergence of those opportunities pushed us ahead to be able to make this change.”

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