A thunderous clanging sound has echoed through the McKenzie Arena halls for nearly two weeks now. The ear-splitting ‘clang’ could be heard all throughout the building, even in athletic director David Blackburn’s fourth-floor office.
It’s all in the name of progress, though.
“It started on June 3 so we’ve had almost a couple of weeks with the noise,” Blackburn said. “We close the doors and we operate. We understand, but it is a bit loud.”
The Roundhouse is getting a facelift-or at least a nose job-in the hopes of sprucing up the 30-year-old venue, which first opened its doors in 1982. And while Blackburn basically inherited the project upon his hiring in April, he’s definitely on board.
“It’s a great venue,” said Blackburn. “It’s so storied, but it does need some tender loving and care. We do need to put some effort into that, but it’s still a wonderful venue.”
It’s called the McKenzie Arena Reseating Project, and by the time it’s complete, the arena will boast more than 2,000 brand new, more comfortable seats throughout the entire lower bowl, and 880 of them-440 on each side of the court-will be premium padded seats.
“We wanted to really upgrade, but we couldn’t upgrade the arena all at once so we started down low,” Blackburn said. “Obviously the bulk of our fans are going to be sitting down low for games when we don’t have a packed house.”
The $1.8 million project, the first major renovation in the Roundhouse’s three-decade existence, coincides with the university’s hiring of two new basketball coaches: Jim Foster, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame over the weekend, and men’s coach Will Wade.
“It’s unique,” Blackburn said. “Obviously I had nothing to do with that, but it is perfect timing to have a fresh start on both the men’s and women’s sides. To have a facelift in the arena makes it that much more special.
“We hope to have some fresh marketing ideas-new seating, new staff-and we hope this energy will escalate and be contagious and we can take off on a good run.”
Wade, who can also hear the clanging from his office, is all for the overhaul.
“I think it’s going to look great from what I can tell,” Wade said. “I think anything that enhances the fan experience improves the overall atmosphere, and I think the reseating will do that. I want the fans to be right on top of the court. I think it’s great for them, great for the team, great for the style of play. It leads to a good fan experience.”
Blackburn said he expects the project to be completed in early-September. The university doesn’t currently have any plans to upgrade the rest of the seats-roughly 9,000-but Blackburn said it’s certainly a possibility for the future.
“At some point we’ll have to look at that,” he said. “Right now, it’s not. This will be enough for us to do for the very near future, but eventually we’ll have to look at some more types of upgrades as the building takes some wear and tear.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.