published Friday, July 8th, 2011

Arena upgrade planned

As McKenzie Arena approaches its 30th birthday, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is working on plans to give the facility a major face-lift.

Athletic director Rick Hart said the retractable seats in the lower seating area will be replaced and a curtain system will be installed for the upper deck. The goal, he said, is for the work to begin following the 2011-12 basketball season.

“We haven’t bid it yet, but we’ve established a general budget and the funding for that’s been set aside,” Hart said.

Because the bid process won’t begin until after the Tennessee State Building Commission approves the project, Hart said he was hesitant to guess the total cost. However, he estimates that it “will probably be in the $1 million range.”

The renovations will be paid for by the university.

The arena opened in 1982 and seats 11,218. The lower seating area has worn down over the years, and because of its age UTC has had trouble finding replacement parts when needed.

“McKenzie Arena, that place is just oozing with tradition, and now we’re making it nicer, making it better. It’s going to be nice,” men’s basketball coach John Shulman said.

A curtaining system would block off the upper-deck seats when they’re not needed.

“It’s just to give you an intimate feel and a little bit cleaner look,” Hart said. “It’s the same thing that a lot of other places use.”

The UTC men’s and women’s Chattem Basketball Practice Facility opened in 2009. Later this summer it will, through private donations, be given some “bells and whistles,” in Shulman’s words.

The changes to the practice facility will be more cosmetic, with more UTC logos and other accoutrements.

“It’s been a huge recruiting advantage for us,” Shulman said, “but now when we put some sparkles on it, it’s going to be unbelievable.”

Along with the plans for the immediate upgrades to McKenzie Arena, UTC also is working on a master plan for the facility, which is home to the basketball programs, the wrestling team’s practice area and the Mocs’ athletic offices and training room. The arena also hosts numerous events throughout the year, such as graduations, concerts and “Disney On Ice.”

Establishing a long-term plan for the arena is important, Hart said, because there are some “major decisions” that need to be made about what it’s going to look like and how it’s going to be used in the future.

“This is the time for us to really closely examine all of that and determine what the vision is for this facility for the next 25-30 years,” Hart said, “because it’s going to require a sizable investment to upgrade, modernize, replace — whatever the case may be — McKenzie Arena.”

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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