When Rob Spear began his position as Athletic Director in 2004, his goals were the same as the ones he has today: to consolidate all of Idaho’s varsity sports into a single Division 1 conference, and to continue to improve Idaho’s athletic facilities.
“It was my goal to enhance the facilities here for our student athletes and our fans, and I think we have accomplished that,” Spear said. “We still have a long way to go but we’ve made great strides.”
Spear has led the way on construction of the Sprinturf practice fields, the Dome weight room, new locker and team rooms and other enhancements inside the Dome. But he said one thing is still missing.
“I think as a student here we have the best residential campus in the country, but we are minus one facility,” Spear said. “And that is an event center, because we should be able to have concerts here for students, we should be able to do other things and bring other events in. And it would have an economic impact for the community, but it would also enhance the student experience here on campus.”
A tentative plan for a 6,000-seat event center on the north end of the Kibbie Dome was drawn up as part of a feasibility study conducted by the athletic department. The final cost of constructing such a facility would be about $20 million, Spear said.
The event center is on UI’s six-year plan for campus
improvements, but Spear said internal approval from the president is the first step to starting construction.
“If it’s on the six-year plan it means we can build it, but we don’t necessarily have to. It’s just so the state board knows what could be happening,” Spear said.
Now that plans to go independent for next year’s football season have been solidified, Spear has spent the spring semester with his focus on securing approval for the event center.
“It’s up to me to get this to become a university priority,” Spear said.
He said a committee has been formed to consider the scope of an event center, but it is still in the early stages. The committee is made up of campus representatives and alumni.
Women’s basketball coach Jon Newlee said an event center would be fantastic for his program as well as others.
“It would be what the basketball programs and volleyball needs,” Newlee said. “It’s something that would help with the practice times and a lot of other things … there’s just not enough room now.”
Newlee said playing the first part of the season in Memorial Gym is difficult because there are three court-based teams that have to find a way to share the small facility with P.E. classes and other events. He said it’s also a challenge because the team’s locker rooms are located in the dome even when they play in Memorial Gym.
Newlee said the split facility also hinders him when trying to recruit new players because the time when students are doing official visits falls during football season. He said it’s difficult for players to picture themselves playing in the Cowan Spectrum when the court isn’t actually set up.
“From a recruiting stand-point it would be fantastic,” Newlee said.
Kwapi Vengesayi, founder of Shades of Black — a Black culture showcase that takes place on the UI campus every February — said he would like to see an event center for events like Shades of Black.
“I think that’s one problem the university of Idaho has right now is you have the SUB ballroom and then the next biggest facility is the Kibbie Dome and there’s nothing in between,” Vengesayi said. “Shades of Black’s size has been limited by the ballroom itself.”
Vengesayi has taken the show to several other universities in the region and said each one has provided him with a list of facility options that range in size when planning the show.
Spear said if an event center were constructed it would likely be used only 25-30 percent of the time for athletics. The rest of the time, the facility would be used for things like concerts, commencement, Jazz Fest and other campus and community events that are currently held in the covered Kibbie Dome.
Spear said once a center is built it opens up a variety of options for the dome, which he plans to expand to a seating capacity of 20-25,000. He said this is the standard size for football stadiums at Football Bowl Subdivision schools. He said the small size of the stadium does present some difficulties in scheduling as well as finding a conference.
“It impacts you from a perception standpoint, but I think it is important that we expand that and expand the capacity, and I think the magic number is over 20,000,” Spear said. “It hinders us a little bit but we need to start selling it out to create the demand to actually get the momentum needed to expand it, but we do have plans to expand it.
Spear’s plans include end zone seating in one — if not both — end zones, cantilevered seating on the corners and a second level, as well as dropping the field to provide additional seating. These additions would add approximately 10,000 seats, Spear said. To complete the stadium feel, Spear said he has considered the possibility of making the dome an outdoor stadium.
“We did, as part of that feasibility study, look at the possibility of actually taking the roof off, but before we can take the roof off … where are you going to have commencement, where are you going to have the Jazz Fest? … When you have and event center then you open up all sorts of possibilities for the dome,” Spear said.
Spear said UI is the only land-grant institution without an event center, but that in 1969 when plans for the dome were chosen, plans for an event center were also drawn up.
“They talked about a renovated Neill Stadium, like an athletic complex. They talked about an open stadium with a basketball facility … back in ‘69 they talked about building this athletic facility and then for some reason they decided to put a roof on the dome,” Spear said.
Spear said in 1969, the planned event center would have cost only $5 million to construct.
“You look back in ‘69 we had plans for an event center and now it’s 2013,” Spear said. “We’re a little late.”
Newlee and Spear said the event center would not only benefit the athletic department, but the campus as a whole and the community of Moscow.
“I would like to see the shovel go in the ground tomorrow and have it completed by next year but I know that’s just not possible. I know how the process works,” Newlee said.
Kaitlyn Krasselt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.