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Crumbling Cowan — Problems with Cowan Spectrum prompt continued discussion on new events center

Submitted by on 03.06.2014 – 10:33 pm

Picture this: It’s a beautiful fall afternoon. Fans of Idaho athletics flood Moscow to enjoy a Vandal football game in the Kibbie Dome. Later that night, basketball fans pack the stands for an Idaho men’s basketball game against national powerhouse Gonzaga.

This vision isn’t possible in the current state of campus facilities. Idaho’s basketball teams play their early games in the small Memorial Gym early since the Cowan Spectrum can’t be set up in the Kibbie Dome until football season is over.

A high-profiled team like Gonzaga isn’t going to play in Memorial Gym, said University of Idaho Director of Athletics Rob Spear. He said that would change if the proposed events center comes to fruition.

“It’s true that most schools don’t want to come play us when we’re playing in Memorial Gym,” Spear said. “A new event center would help us attract a more quality non-conference opponent in the early season.”

Future plans have included an events center since 1971, according to the University of Idaho website. But a new arena might need to come sooner, due to the Cowan Spectrum falling apart.

Prior to a game against Seattle U on Feb. 1, three rows of student-section bleachers fell off.

“It was pretty scary,” said Philip Burkgart, a UI freshman who attended the game. “I don’t really feel safe going to games anymore. It’s tough to get some people to go to games now. But me and my friends are pretty big fans, so it’s worth the risk.”

Spear said the bleachers have exceeded their useful life, and the university needs to invest in a new bleacher system. He said he would rather see the university invest in a new events center, though.

The process for a new events center started back in 2007, Spear said, when a feasibility study was completed. The study called for a 6,000-seat facility connected to the North side of the Kibbie Dome.

“Unfortunately, back in 2007, the cost for a new event center came out to be $70 million,” he said. “That was a number that was too big for people on campus.”

Spear was asked to rewrite the proposal. With a goal to keep the new building on the North side, a proposal was drafted to create a much smaller center — cutting the square footage from 180,000 to 90,000.

The latest renderings show a 5,100-seat facility. A lower bowl surrounding the court would seat 2,800 fans, while 2,500 upper-level seats fill one side of the arena.

New UI president Chuck Staben told Spear he wanted the seats to be even on each side, before moving forward.

“He wanted us to go back and re-evaluate to see if we could balance it out,” Spear said. “That’s where we’re at now, we’re in the process of balancing it out.”

The Idaho State Board of Education has already approved the events center proposal for its six-year plan.

“Now we need to try to find a way to build this and control the cost,” Spear said. “We’re coming out with a new design. Hopefully in a few weeks that will show us how we can control the cost, and then the next step is to build a funding model to see how we would raise and build the funding.”

Spear sees the process as a four-legged stool: fundraising by the athletic department, debt restructuring from the university, support from the community and help from students.

Student support for an events center happened just across the border.

In 2006, Washington State University students voted in favor of a $10 million tax, the university website states, which adds $25 to tuition per semester for 25 years.

ASUI Director of Athletics Taylor Vincent said she is in favor of a tax like this.

“I can’t speak for all of ASUI, but if it is something they decided to do, I know we would support it and help promote however we can,” Vincent said.  “I will definitely be advocating for it and I’m definitely in support of a new event center.”

As a student, Burkgart said he wouldn’t mind paying an extra $25 per semester, and said it would be worth it with all the new events.

“I hope the students would entertain a conversation about this,” Spear said. “It would make their experience so much better here, and not only their experience, but the experience of generations of students to come.”

The experience goes further than athletics. A new events center would make Moscow a more appealing destination for top-flight musicians, Spear said. Instead of going to Beasley Coliseum in Pullman, he said, they would choose Moscow.

Musicians don’t want to play in 10,000- to 20,000-seat arenas anymore, Spear said. They want to play in smaller venues. If there are any concerts in the area, they are at WSU, he said, but a new events center would change that.

“I feel like we could have a lot more concerts,” Burkgart said. “Last year, we had Macklemore. With the new event center, we could have a lot more of those.”

Vincent recalled when musician Mike Posner came to play and had nowhere to perform.

“It was 2011 when Mike Posner came, and the Kibbie Dome was in renovation and we didn’t have a place for him to perform,” she said. “We had to host him in the (Student Union Building) Ballroom. So it would be awesome to have a facility that is constantly available for those types of things.”

Athletics generate $33-34 million a year, Spear said. He said that number would only grow with a new arena.

“It all indicates that we need an event center or arena on this campus,” he said. “In my opinion, an event center would be awesome for all the students. It’s not just about athletics. It’s about making our campus the best residential campus in the country.”

Korbin McDonald can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu

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