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March 26, 2012

FSU President: Civic Center needs improvement

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If Florida State University has its way, the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center could be getting a facelift in the near future.

FSU President Eric Barron told Warchant.com that "heads are being put together" on how to improve the 12,100-seat facility, which broke ground in 1978 and opened in 1981. Barron declined to discuss specific plans for Florida State's future role with the arena or what any particular improvements would entail, citing "legal issues" involving the school and the Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center Authority, which operates the venue.

But Barron says that the 31-year-old facility, which serves as home for the Florida State men's and women's basketball teams and hosts the university's commencement ceremonies throughout the year, is in dire need of restoration.

"I would say that we know we have to find a way to have a better facility," Barron said.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported Thursday that a line item in the proposed state budget could put the university in a position to attain control the Civic Center. The venue was listed on page 390 of the proposed state budget among other properties that could be attained by Florida universities with funds other than those appropriated by the state. But that line item doesn't put FSU under any obligation to purchase or take control of the venue.

The Democrat also reported that the Civic Center lost $188,000 during the 2010 fiscal year and $82,720 last year. Right now, Florida State possesses seven of the 13 seats on the Civic Center Authority's Board of Directors.

"We know that it's been struggling financially," Barron said. "And this is not a statement about Tallahassee, civic centers all over the country, especially in medium sized cities, are struggling. It's part of why the economy is struggling.

"That facility is very important to Florida State because we need to have a facility. Otherwise you can't do basketball, otherwise you can't do commencement. So the best thing to say at this particular time is that a lot of heads are being put together to figure out a way that this Civic Center is better than it is right now."

When it comes to basketball, the venue had Florida State in the back of the pack in the competitive 12-team Atlantic Coast Conference. Four new basketball venues for ACC programs have been constructed since the Civic Center's last renovation in 1999, which just addressed luxury suites, concession stands, a club level and a video display. A $31 million renovation was also completed at Clemson's Littlejohn Coliseum and Georgia Tech will open a brand new $45 million facility next season.

"It's very important to the community, and it's a shared facility (between the university and the local community). Any kind of shared facility is tricky. And money hasn't been put into maintenance and making the place look good in a long time because the money hasn't been there to do it," Barron said. "We have a strong interest in making sure the community needs are served and that FSU has a place we can play basketball."

FSU men's basketball coach Leonard Hamilton has been successful in the ACC despite the lackluster venue, winning 70 regular-season conference games the past seven years, which ranks third in the league behind Duke and North Carolina during that span. Florida State also won its first-ever ACC Championship earlier this month, becoming just the second team other than Duke and North Carolina to win the title in the past 16 years.

Hamilton has also been one of the most successful recruiters in the ACC even in the face of the notable role that facilities now play in the recruiting process.

Barron said he understands that an improved facility could give both basketball teams and the school at an advantage.

"You're facilities are an important part of recruiting," Barron said. "A lot of our teams, they would tell you that facilities have been an important part of our recruiting.

"And the Civic Center looks pretty drab these days."

Check back with Warchant.com later this week for a full Q&A with FSU President Eric Barron.

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