The Louis Brown Athletic Center. The RAC. One of the great arenas in the nation. Really! You can check that out. Rutgers says so.
At Rutgers, it is technically Building 4156. On my list, it has a much lower number.
And as of July 1 it is (heavy sigh) a Big Ten athletic venue. And it will be the (second heavy sigh) smallest arena in the conference. Yes, smaller than Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Now, please understand, I love the RAC. It was a great venue when it opened and it had some outrageous games and crowds. Sitting high in the 300 section for a win over West Virginia. Standing the whole time for the A-10 championship over Penn State (yes, I am old). Being in the same league with Villanova and Pitt. It was a great arena.
Was. Now, most would liken it to a high school gym on steroids. With red paint. Lots of red paint.
Renaissance defined: a renewal of life, vigor, interest; rebirth; revival
Four years ago - yes, four years - there was a lot of ballyhoo under the previous AD about the RAC Renaissance. And where is that plan right now?
Right. What has happened since that first announcement and the hiring of a high profile architectural firm to do the design work has been chaos, not about the RAC, but about just about everything else in Rutgers athletics. OK, we got new scoreboards (about ten years late!). But we're on another basketball coach, another AD, another University president. And God only knows how many unwanted Sports Center references.
The architectural renderings that Tim Pernetti rolled out looked neat: a hall of fame, retail space, a grand entry plaza with a huge video screen, a new "bowl" seating arrangement. Question: would there be more bathrooms? Please, let there be more bathrooms.
But while I always wanted the RAC renovation/renaissance/expansion to happen, what exactly does that mean and include?
The renaissance included new practice facilities for both basketball teams. That is probably far more important than expanding seating. But why does the practice facility have to be at the RAC? Why not in the stadium area? Why not bring more sports together in another location? You have more space to use by the stadium, more flexibility in design in a new building.
The original plan for the stadium expansion included more seating and facilities. Some of that was scrapped when funding didn't materialize. But the space under the student section/scoreboard is still empty and undeveloped. What if that was used for its original purpose: football facilities? Develop that into a new "Hale Center" for football and then use the old Hale Center for other sports. Maybe expand the old space a bit to create a new indoor practice facility for football -- a facility that isn't a bubble.
Consider: bring together football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, and maybe even wrestling or another Olympic sport in one campus. An Olympic village, of sorts. Athletes sharing core facilities, sharing the student-athlete experience, bonding and building together.
And about that "arena"....
I can remember as an undergrad getting on line at the Barn with a dinner tray of food from the Commons (I told you I was old) in order to get into a basketball game because of limited seating. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad again. And as I said, the RAC was a great place in its hey day. But what kind of price tag will there be to renovate it, bring it up to building codes, and make it a Big Ten-worthy arena? I don't have an answer. I'm sure that a new arena would cost a bundle, too, but what if it wasn't just Rutgers footing the bill? What if you built in downtown New Brunswick with another entity - like New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco)? Devco has been building in the city for twenty years. They are the ones who put together financing for the new College Avenue buildings for Rutgers. And, of course, naming rights kick in some millions. How does the Johnson & Johnson Center sound? Yeah, going to the game at "The J".
What if you put an arena in the downtown region that could hold 12-13,000? If it was on or near George Street, you start to connect College Ave with Cook/Douglass. You have parking decks nearby, buses going past constantly (and more could be added for games), and it continues to build connections with the city and region. And it becomes a medium-large sized arena that can host other events, such as concerts, as well. Hey, anyone for hockey?
And if you did build a new arena, what happens to the RAC? It is still there as an alternate facility, big enough for gymnastics, volleyball, wrestling, smaller events. Wouldn't it be nice to have another place for convocations or smaller concerts?
Eons ago, there actually was a proposal for just such an arena. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anything on it. As far as I can recall, that plan died a quiet death.
Yeah, I know. There's no money now to do....uh, lots of things. So how do you pay for this? Hey, I'm the idea guy. That's why they pay other people to raise the bucks. Your thoughts?