IOWA CITY — Six months after state regents approved a $47 million renovation and basketball practice addition to Carver-Hawkeye Arena, athletics department officials still are trying to raise funds for the project.
Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said the department has raised more than $7.5 million in private commitments for the facility overhaul. The department hopes to raise as much as $20 million privately for the project.
This past week we’ve had three verbal commitments — all above $100,000,” Barta said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but our goal is to break ground sometime late summer, and we’re still on schedule to do that. But we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then.”
Iowa faces many obstacles in completing the renovation, including an economic recession and natural disasters that sapped many private contributions in the last six months. But competitors both within the state and Big Ten already have an advantage over Iowa in basketball facilities, which intensifies Iowa’s efforts to start the renovation quickly.
All but three Big Ten schools have stand-alone basketball practice facilities. Most of them have recent upgrades or are like Indiana and Purdue, which are in the process of building new basketball complexes. In-state foe Iowa State will have a new $8 million basketball practice facility by next fall after an Ames developer donated land and agreed to help build it.
“In this world of big-time athletics, to not have a practice facility I think it’s one more obstacle for teams as they struggle to get recruits,” said Bobby Hansen, former Iowa and NBA player and radio color analyst for Iowa men’s basketball. “Believe me, every time they go out and are visiting the competition, one of the first places they would show them would probably be the locker rooms. That’s where the kids are going to spend the majority of their time and in the practice facility.
“Now, it will get done here at the University of Iowa; we just don’t have a great timetable at this point. We’ve moved forward and gotten the approval from the Regents and we’ll try to get this thing started in 2009. I guess the only thing I can say is, the sooner the better.”
Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter acknowledges facilities are important in the recruiting process, but he is more concerned with helping his current players expand their skills. That’s difficult when both of Iowa’s basketball teams share competition and practice space with the volleyball squad at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Iowa’s top-ranked wrestling team competes in the arena, as do the school’s gymnastics teams.
Sharing the arena creates time challenges, as demonstrated in one November weekend in which the volleyball team competed twice, the wrestling team hosted Arizona State, the women’s basketball team held a tournament and Iowa’s men’s basketball team hosted a game. There wasn’t enough time or space at Carver-Hawkeye Arena for Lickliter’s team and his opponent to practice, so Iowa practiced several miles away at the North Dodge Athletic Club. Oakland, Iowa’s opponent, practiced in the Field House’s North Gym, which hasn’t been used for competitive basketball since the 1982-83 season.
Oakland Coach Greg Kampe was highly critical of Iowa, calling the North Gym a “god-awful” place. Kampe told Lickliter he was concerned for his players’ safety by practicing at the aging facility. Lickliter denied any notion that Kampe was promoting an agenda to increase awareness about Iowa’s facility.
“We’re not close friends, we know each other and all,” Lickliter said. “It wasn’t something where he was pushing for me; it was something where he’d experienced it. He knew how he’d experienced other venues and knew the differences. I think it caught him at a time where he was willing to voice his opinion.”
Lickliter primarily wants a new practice facility so his players can shoot at the same location any time of the day.
“I’ve said this a number of times that if we recruit high achievers, they want to know ‘Where am I going to be able to do my individual work?’” Lickliter said. “That’s a real key where you can get in and do some shooting where it’s available at all hours.
“Our greatest need is a practice facility. This is a great game venue, so do I have a priority? Yeah, I do. My priority would be for a practice facility. But I’m very much a team guy. I love the Hawkeyes. I want to do what’s best for us in the long run.”
But adding a less expensive practice facility without improving the arena and the athletics department’s many offices is not feasible, Barta said. The project would refurbish the wrestling area, weight training facilities, department offices and elevators.
“The challenge with trying to break something like this up is you might get a part of it done, but you need the whole thing done,” Barta said. “There’s a chance if you get a small part of it done, you may never get the rest of it done.
“Right now our plan is we need the whole thing, we’re going to do the whole thing and as I told a couple of people and sent a letter to our campaign committee, Plan A is we’ve just got to continue to work hard. Plan B is to be successful with Plan A.”
Barta hasn’t set a monetary goal for the department before moving forward with the project. His predecessor, Bob Bowlsby, and other department officials raised $14 million privately toward the $89 million renovation at Kinnick Stadium. The department reseated the stadium to help pay for that renovation, and that’s how Iowa plans to pay for the Carver-Hawkeye Arena project.
In the arena, Iowa plans to replace the current collapsed seating structure and build permanent premium seating areas. Iowa will build two rows (100 seats) of courtside seating and 550 seats of club seating areas. The department expects to raise more than $21 million in new revenue generated from premium seating over the next 10 years. By reseating the arena based on donation levels, Iowa officials estimate to raise another $900,000 annually.
But those financial estimates aren’t a given in today’s economic climate. Barta, however, isn’t deterred.
“I had somebody come up and reminded me that when Carver-Hawkeye Arena was built, it was during the worst recession since the Great Depression,” Barta said. “I went back and looked up what the environment was economically and inflation and unemployment were at 10 and 11 percent, respectively — I think I’m right in saying that — and the prime rate was like 21 percent. So, we’re going through tough economic times, no question, but the need is great.”
Lickliter knows that better than anyone. He said the practice facility “was a topic” when he and Barta negotiated a memo of understanding in April 2007 for Lickliter to coach the Hawkeyes.
There were preliminary disagreements with other staffers over the court size but those have been resolved. Iowa officials have not received the project’s final designs from architects.
Hansen said everyone knows the project needs to be completed, but it will take a little more patience to make it a reality.
“We’re here to educate these young players and provide them a positive experience, and it just seems that moving them off campus to the North Dodge facility or to North Liberty (Recreation Center) that doesn’t make sense to me,” Hansen said. “But you’ve got to prove you can pay for it. I think Gary Barta’s doing it the right way; you can’t just willy-nilly and throw it out there. Yeah, we’d all like a bigger house or whatever it might be, but it has to be done responsibly and that’s the approach that he’s taken.
“It’s going to take a little more time, but it will get done.”
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