Big plans, few details for Civic Center Renovation
This summer, Florida State plans to give the Donald L. Tucker Center a much-needed makeover.
An estimated $10 million or more in renovations will include new garnet-colored seats, a brand-new floor, new ribbon boards and a new Jumbotron. If all goes well these improvements will be completed in time for the start of the 2014-2015 season. There's also a host of long-overdue infrastructure upgrades for the electrical, heating and ventilation systems.
Those aren't the most eye-catching upgrades, but are the most necessary to upgrade the building's dilapidated infrastructure>
Those plans are the first step in the university's ambitious redesign project for the Tucker Center, and while the blueprints are impressive, FSU still isn't sure where the money will come from>
Getting caught up
Nobody will debate that the Tucker Center - known as the 'Tuck' to students - is in need of a makeover. The arena was built in 1981 and has served as the longtime home of Florida State's men's and women's basketball teams. Things reached a nadir in the most recent 2013-2014 season when a men's game against Maryland had to be stopped because of bats roosting in the rafters flew on to the court>
Thirty years of deferred maintenance have left the building with outdated electrical wiring, heating and ventilation equipment, much of which is still original from when the arena was first built in 1981. In many cases, the equipment is so old it can't be replaced if it breaks - meaning that if the lights go out turning them back on will be a challenge>
The Tucker Center struggled to sustain itself as a public building while run by the City of Tallahassee and Leon County, and FSU was forced to take over the building in 2012. The structural problems became obvious right away. Even things as simple as light bulbs had to be refitted and replaced>
The building's lagging basics necessitated the upcoming renovations, which are the most extensive since the roof was replaced in 1998. Much of the current renovations are required just to get the Civic Center up to date as a functional modern building>
"It was behind some," said Dennis Bailey, senior associate VP of facilities at Florida State. "Especially in the latter days of the operation they were struggling from a cash flow operation so things that maybe should have been done weren't done with a long-term solution in mind. … The decisions that we're making about investments are 20-to-30-to-40-year type investments. A lot of the systems and a lot of the equipment was original from the 80s. It was 30-something years old and it had pretty much seen its useful life."
The Civic Center can seat more than 12,000 people for a basketball game, and Florida State has more ACC wins in the past 10 years than any team except Duke and North Carolina, an enviable record of consistent success>
But during that span, FSU has never been higher than fifth in the conference in average attendance and only been higher than eighth twice>
By building up the facility and tying it into the College Town district, FSU hopes that the draw of shops, restaurants and bars along with basketball games will help bolster attendance>
The facility also makes recruiting in the ACC a challenge - recruits have a plethora of modern arenas or ones that have recently undergone wholesale upgrading and renovations to choose from. Both Aaron Thomas and Montay Brandon, sophomore starters for FSU's 2013-2014 club, said their official visits included stops at everywhere on campus except the Tucker Center>
Even Florida State's practice facility - adjacent to the gym - is in need of expansion. Currently used by both the men's and women's basketball teams, it's not large enough to comfortably accommodate both teams at the same time and there is no sound barrier between the two courts. What's more, the building has no main branded entrance - players enter through the rear entrance, which is by the loading dock for the Tucker Center. Office spaces for coaches are cramped as well>
Additions to the practice facility are included in the university's plans for the facility>
It will also only get more difficult to keep pace with the rest of the ACC - Clemson recently announced a $51 million plan to completely gut and renovate Littlejohn Coliseum into a modern facility. The Tigers are just the latest ACC school to overhaul a long-lagging basketball facility. Georgia Tech also pumped $45 million into a 2012 renovation of the newly renamed Hank McCavish Pavilion. And the ACC's newest member Louisville plays in the KFC YUM! Center, which opened in 2010 at the cost of more than $200 million>
Even Clemson, as a traditionally football-minded school with an inconsistent record of success and fan involvement in basketball, has undertaken an ambitious redesign of its home arena. The Tigers' plans provide a useful parallel to Florida State's efforts with the Tucker Center>
Graham Neff, Associate Athletic Director for Business Operations at Clemson, said when new Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich took over in 2012, the existing plans for Littlejohn's renovation got bumped to the forefront>
"Prior to Dan coming in, there was already plans and designs for upgrading the basketball complex," Neff said. "But those plans were essentially investing in redeveloping the practice facility. There had been money and a fundraising initiative with the basketball piece of that and the plans had begun. Once Dan got here those plans were supercharged."
Putting the basketball renovations in with $25 million worth of updates to the football stadium was a good way to generate fundraising support as well, Neff said. What's more, Clemson men's basketball coach Brad Brownell and his staff take diagrams of the plans for the new Littlejohn Coliseum to show to recruits>
"I know we've provided them renderings and they have big blown-up poster boards and they're using that for in-home visits," Neff said>
Leonard Hamilton and Florida State's coaching staff has no such luxury - but the hope is that they will soon>
"I'm excited about the fact that there is a plan," Hamilton said. "I do think the committee has a plan for improvement. ... I don't know exactly the timetable that they want to implement the improvements, but we all know that they're way overdue. I'm sure that whatever progress we make in the time we have before next season will be something all of us will welcome."
The master plan
The hope is the eventual improvements will help both revitalize an inconsistent basketball fan base and improve FSU's ability to recruit>
Like Clemson, Florida State has its own newly installed athletic director in Stan Wilcox, who has talked publicly about establishing a master facilities plan for FSU athletics since he arrived in August of 2013>
Wilcox has repeatedly deferred questions about the Tucker Center renovations, saying he plans to present a five-year plan for facilities to the board of trustees this summer. Wilcox said he wanted Florida State to be "out in front," but for the Tucker Center, that will likely take significantly more than the current investment>
"Right now what I'm doing is I'm going through all of our facilities and creating a master plan," Wilcox told Warchant.com back in February. "And at the end of the day, in order to do everything on it may cost X amount of dollars. That doesn't mean I'll be able to get all of that done. It'll be part of the strategic plan. So within a five-year period of time I'm going to want to get completed X number of items within that master plan. ... We don't want to be behind the eight-ball; we want to be out in front."
Bailey said the $10 million estimate for the recent run of improvements is just that, an estimate. And it's only a dent in the building's long-term needs. FSU's entire project is ambitious and part of the arena district and Madison Street projects to create a cultural center for Florida State University, centered on game day experiences for both men's basketball and football>
Florida State also commissioned a report by an architectural firm, Populous, detailing the various construction and renovation options for the Tucker Center. Populous's report outlined three main options with an estimated cost for total overhaul running north of $100 million.
The plans are comprehensive and include redesigned entrance ways and front facades for the arena, a completely overhauled pavilion to replace the existing bare-bones parking lot, and possibly a hotel and even moving the business school to the same area>
But none of those projects has a timetable or an estimated budget, and Bailey says it's still not clear where the money will come from for future projects. The money for the first phase this summer will come from a number of different pots, with both the university and the athletic boosters contributing some.
Going forward, it's anyone's guess, but the funding will determine what kind of renovations FSU pursues.
"Those are all longer-term projects that will evolve as funding is identified and as a decision is made and how that fits with the rest of the development in that district," Bailey said. "We're trying to get a hotel and some kind of convention center capacity and possibly a college of business out there. And we need more basketball practice capacity. All those things are kind of chairs on the deck of the ship and we're trying to figure out how they best fit and which one happens first. It's going to be an issue of funding but we've got to get the plan together first."
Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect the accurate cost of Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena. The building's total cost was $131 million, not $31 million as originally stated.