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Volume 24 No. 217

Facilities

The Islanders’ planned arena at Belmont Park is "expected to take more than three years to complete, which would put the opening" near the start of the '21-22 NHL season, according to a front-page piece by Jim Baumbach of NEWSDAY. An analysis of the state approval and construction process indicates that "at least 38 months would be needed before the 18,000-seat arena could be ready." The Isles remain hopeful the arena can "open sooner than 2021 because the team’s partners in the development" -- which include Oak View Group and Sterling Project Development -- are "experienced in building stadiums and arenas." Barring "unforeseen delays and factoring in the best-case scenarios," the environmental review process would begin in March and be "completed in 12 months." Construction would begin in March '19. It takes 26 months to "complete the arena, taking the timeline of completion" to May '21 before the NHL season begins in October (NEWSDAY, 1/16).

Fresno State has "shelved plans" for a $60M renovation of Bulldog Stadium, choosing instead to "upgrade the venue in incremental stages," according to Robert Kuwada of the FRESNO BEE. A source said that Fresno State will "focus on finding ways to improve" the student-athlete village and the Robert E. Duncan Athletic Building, which serves as the athletics department’s home. There is "no timetable for enhancements" to the stadium, which was opened in '80 and is "showing its age with seats that have faded to an odd hue." There also is "cracking in the walkways and seating areas" and "few fan amenities." The renovation project and creation of a Bulldog District around the venue were pushed by former AD Jim Bartko and "seen as essential for Fresno State to remain competitive in the Mountain West Conference and gain traction on a national level, not just in football but in all of its sports" (FRESNO BEE, 1/14). In Fresno, Marek Warszawski wrote, "Shelving renovations to Bulldog Stadium, home of the athletics department’s primary revenue engine, signifies a retreat from that position." What happens to the $15M in pledges that Bartko "raised for stadium renovations?" The donors who made them are "asking themselves the same question." Fans have to "wonder what coach Jeff Tedford thinks of this new course, and how it might impact his long-term future." Tedford and his staff have been "selling the spiffy renderings of a new and improved Bulldog Stadium to its last two recruiting classes" (FRESNO BEE, 1/14).

In Raleigh, Luke DeCock noted any Hurricanes fans who "arrived through PNC Arena’s south entrances on Sunday would immediately have noticed something different: The Eye, the team store, appeared to have metastasized into the ticketing lobby." Where there was "once shiny terrazzo, there were suddenly racks of team gear and employees roaming with tablets ready for quick sales." New Owner Tom Dundon "thought The Eye was too small, too hard to get in and out of and took too long to check fans out at the register" (NEWSOBSERVER.com, 1/15).

SAFETY FIRST: SPORTSNET.ca's Shi Davidi noted the Blue Jays are "expanding their protective netting around home plate at Rogers Centre" by 150%, "running a camouflaged-coloured mesh from the outfield end of one dugout to the other." The screen behind home plate will "rise from the previous 18 feet to 28 feet above the playing surface," while the netting over the dugouts will "stand 26 feet above the turf." Between the elimination of the knotted netting and the "switch to a camo colour designed to blend into the field’s green, the Blue Jays are hoping to minimize the intrusiveness of the new barrier" (SPORTSNET.ca, 1/15).

DOWN IN FRONT: In Virginia, Cara Cooper noted Martinsville Speedway is "taking out rows of seats from the top of the Bill France Tower between Turns 3 and 4, and all of the seats above the press box between Turns 1 and 2." NASCAR attendance is "down across the country," and Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell "admitted that played into the timing of the seat removal." Campbell also said that the seats being eliminated were "too high and difficult for fans to reach, providing logistical issues with facilities in that area." Cooper noted the removal "looks to be about a dozen rows" (MARTINSVILLEBULLETIN.com, 1/12).