Well, aren't we all. The IU Board of Trustees met yesterday in Gary, and as expected, said that replacing Assembly Hall, rather than an extensive renovation, would be the way to go.
Kansas City-based architecture firm HOK Sports estimated a renovation would cost
$115 million.Jim Edson, an architect at HOK Sports, said total cost for a new 18,000-seat arena would currently be from $130 million to $160 million. He said that was based on building the new arena immediately south of Assembly Hall and next to a basketball practice facility the school is preparing to build.
There is a bit of hand-wringing later in the article.
Indiana trustee Tom Reilly said he worried talk about a new basketball arena would hurt efforts to raise contributions toward a $55 million athletic facilities project, an upcoming IU Bloomington capital campaign and fundraising for IU-affiliated hospitals in Indianapolis.
Well, sure. I don't see Assembly Hall as an urgent need for the athletic department to address. By all means, finish the fundraising and construction for the football/baseball/softball facilities first. But I think we can all act like adults and "talk" about these things. Assembly Hall is entering its 37th basketball season, and the design was dated when it was constructed. The sightlines are terrible, the design is terrible, the space at the end of the arena is wasted, and the balconies simulate watching a game from the lip of the Grand Canyon. On the other hand, it has hosted IU's glory days, three of its five championship teams, and is immediately recognizable on television. Other than perhaps Cameron Indoor Stadium, I don't think there is as distinctive an arena anywhere. Any new arena will have to be designed with care to satisfy Hoosier fans.
It's important to consider the various reasons why an arena might need to be replaced: 1) too small; 2) falling apart; 3) doesn't meet the program's everyday (i.e., non-gameday needs); 4) facility makes game attendance undesirable for fans. IU doesn't have a glaring need in any of those respects, but has something of a combination of the four. As it stands today, Assembly Hall's most glaring deficiency is off the court: the locker rooms, the (nonexistent) practice facility, the lack of any nice space for players to gather, the coaches' offices, and the like. That situation, of course, is being recitified by the new practice facility soon to be built southeast of the Hall. As for the other factors? At 17,000 seats, Assembly Hall still is (I think) the second-largest facility in the Big Ten, but IU probably could fill a 20,000 seat arena. So, it's not too small, but could be bigger. As to the second factor, Assembly Hall isn't falling apart, but at nearly 40 years of age, it soon will reach the point where it will require some extensive work. Finally, as to the fourth factor, that plays into it a little bit. Certainly, IU fans still flock to Assembly Hall despite the sightline problems. The floor seats are fine, the lower half of each side of the court has good seats. The upper seats in the lower arena and the balcony seats are awful. IU still manages to sell these seats when school is in session, but not always for lesser games. And it is my understanding that many students simply decline to attend games for which they are assigned to the balcony. People still show up, but they would show up more if there were more good seats.
When you add in the desire to capitalize on high rollers with some sort of luxury seating, all of the factors point in favor of a new arena rather than spending a bunch of money to renovate a facility that is never going to provide an optimal viewing experience for fans. Still, from the perspective of recruiting, upgrading the off-court facilities is much more important, and IU is now resolving that issue. The players don't care about the view from the balcony. For all of its faults, from the floor, Assembly Hall is an impressive, imposing facility that provides a great homecourt advantage for IU. I'm at peace with the idea of replacing it, but I don't think it has to happen tomorrow.