SBJ/October 17-23, 2011/Facilities

Butler’s upgrade plans continue Hinkle-Conseco connection

Don Muret
The same firm that designed Conseco Fieldhouse has been hired to plan upgrades for Hinkle Fieldhouse, which served as the model for the Indiana Pacers’ arena.

Aecom, formerly Ellerbe Becket, will design $25 million in improvements to Hinkle, Butler University’s 83-year-old arena, confirmed Athletic Director Barry Collier.

The plans are not complete, but the goal is to install more chairback seats to market as premium seats inside the vintage facility, officials said. Those newer seats would replace wooden bench seats.

There are now 2,322 chairback seats, plus 48 courtside chairs opposite the team benches in the lower bowl.
The courtside chairs are priced at $1,650 for a season ticket, an average of about $92 a game. The next price level is $549 for a lower-level chairback seat, an average of $30.50 a game. Inventory for both is sold out for the coming season, according to the Butler Sports website.

Building more chairback seats will cut Hinkle’s capacity from 10,000 to 8,500, but in doing so, the school would meet the demand to sit in a better-quality seat. The arena will still have about 3,000 wooden bench seats, most in the upper deck.

“Because of the way Hinkle was designed, it is not conducive to clubs and lounges,” said Mark Helmus, Butler’s vice president for university advancement. “But many of our fans want a chairback.”

Chairbacks were first installed at Hinkle Fieldhouse in 1989, the last time the arena went through a major renovation. A new VIP lounge was built, along with a new training room and locker rooms, and new offices for basketball, volleyball, sports information and marketing.

The arena houses offices and locker rooms for all of Butler’s sports; that number was four when Hinkle opened in 1928 but has ballooned to 19. The project calls for the baseball, softball, golf and tennis offices to be moved to an existing building by the baseball field, Collier said.

Butler has raised $8.5 million in gifts and pledges, enough to move forward with some parts of the renovation after 2012 spring graduation. The chairback project is at the top of the list, Collier said.

Conseco Fieldhouse, home of the Pacers, opened in 1999 as the NBA’s first retro-themed arena. Hinkle Fieldhouse was the inspiration for that project. In turn, some of Conseco’s signature design elements have spread to other major league arenas built in the last 12 years.

Aecom still has about a dozen architects that helped design Conseco Fieldhouse.

KVA EFFECTS
Workers install one of the Tesla coils at
St. Pete Times Forum.
“We have a long list of things we want to do, but in a sense we don’t want to change anything,” Collier said. “We want to preserve the mystique, the tradition, the history and the feel so many people speak of when they come here for the first time.”

BOLTS OF FRANKENSTEIN: The St. Pete Times Forum’s new high-voltage special effects package dates to the original 1931 “Frankenstein” movie.

To reinforce its brand, the Tampa Bay Lightning has installed a pair of Tesla coils to produce lightning bolts extending 25 feet long in opposite directions. Those coils, named for inventor Nikola Tesla, hang from the rafters in the northeast and southwest corners of the seating bowl. Together, they generate the world’s largest visible display of electricity in a public assembly facility, said Jeff Parisse, director and owner of kVA Effects, a company that builds the machines for rock concerts, car shows, theme parks and museums.

In Tampa, each coil produces a minimum of 1.8 million volts of electricity. For a spectacular effect, those bolts will sometimes zap chains dangling from the coils above the crowd, Parisse said. The coils are safe and do not pose a danger to fans, team spokesman Bill Wickett said.

The Lightning will most likely activate the coils after Tampa Bay goals and during player introductions, Wickett said.
The “Frankenstein” connection comes from Parisse’s mentor, William Wysock, formerly kVA Effects’ chief engineer. Wysock, a Hollywood special effects technician, worked with Ken Strickfaden, the originator for using Tesla coils in film, starting with the Boris Karloff horror classic.

About seven years ago, the Colorado Avalanche used a smaller kVA Effects system during pregame introductions at Pepsi Center in Denver, Parisse said.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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