SBJ/December 15 - 21, 2003/Facilities

UVa arena funding rests on courtside seats

University of Virginia officials say 56 of 80 courtside seats have been sold in a program they expect to raise $20 million toward the construction of the school's new basketball arena, set to open in May 2006.

The Virginia Athletic Foundation, a nonprofit arm of the university, is in the midst of leasing courtside packages of two seats for $500,000, three seats for $750,000 and four seats for $1 million, said Barry Parkhill, associate athletic director for development.

Those sums are paid over five years, but the leases run 20 years. There is also an annual contribution required over the 20-year period.

Students will rule one end of the Virginia arena.

Courtside seat donors are granted additional seats in the lower bowl in exchange for their generosity, Parkhill said. The greater the donation, the more seats the contributor receives beyond their courtside allotment.

Fifty-two courtside seats are situated on the north sideline and 28 on the west baseline. The package price is the same for both front-row locations. Amenities include preferred parking and access to an event-level club.

Dirk Katstra, the foundation's executive director, said the premium seat program is similar to those used to build two other Atlantic Coast Conference arenas, Comcast Center at College Park, Md., and the RBC Center in Raleigh, where North Carolina State plays.

Maryland and N.C. State, however, also relied on public money for construction. Virginia has no state subsidies to fall back on to meet the initial $129.8 million construction cost, which Katstra said could increase to $180 million over the next two years, taking into account inflationary factors.

The foundation had collected $81 million through October, according to Katstra, which includes a $35 million donation from 1976 Virginia graduate Paul Tudor Jones II. Last May, he acquired the right to name the facility John Paul Jones Arena in honor of his 83-year-old father, a 1948 Virginia law school graduate.

The $81 million does not reflect revenue the school expects to generate from 20 luxury suites. Virginia plans to start selling them late next summer. "We haven't finalized the pricing, but they will range from $60,000 to $75,000 per year," said Katstra. Contracts are for three, five and seven years.

Officials are expected to announce a sponsorship deal soon for the playing surface at John Paul Jones Arena. Wachovia's logo adorns the basketball court at University Hall, home to Cavaliers basketball since 1965.

John Paul Jones Arena incorporates the white columns and red brick synonymous with the Jeffersonian architecture on campus, said Parkhill. "It has to fit and look like it fits. It might cost us a little more, but it's going to be the best-looking college facility in the country."

Dick Laurance, project director, said the facility design has 12,000 seats "closer or as close" to game action compared with all 8,500 seats at University Hall.

"It will be an intimidating place to play," said Bob Moje, principal architect of local VMDO, working with Ellerbe Becket on the project.

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Related Topics:

Colleges, Ellerbe Becket

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