Two months ago, at the conclusion of Alabama’s basketball season, we wrote an editorial regarding the future of Coleman Coliseum. The 50-year old edifice, originally envisioned as more of a multi-use facility than a true basketball arena, may be the most hated structure on the University of Alabama campus.
This cavernous, dark 15,368-seat warehouse from 1968 occupies some of the best real estate on campus. And, next to the other capital improvements, including its freshly-built neighbor at the New Joe, it is a study in contrasts: contrasts made all the starker by Coleman’s gloomy interior, institutionalized exterior, vending and concessions from the Civil Rights era...
The sight-lines are terrible. It is far too large a facility (even Rupp is downsizing by 10%). It is a dim, grim game experience where students are actively punished, and offers practically nothing in the way of amenities for high-dollar donors. But, airplane hangars rarely do.
Modern up, seems to be the painful answer no one wants to hear. There is a fantastic footprint and foundation already in place. Tear down the hangar, and build on top of an existing foundation. That alone would save millions and months of labor over a brand-new facility.
But, not even that less-radical proposal appears to be the case.
“It’s leaning more towards the idea of a remodel but even there, we’re not there yet,” Byrne said Wednesday at SEC Spring Meetings in Destin. “We’ve been studying that and research in the marketplace about what would be supported and then we have to find a financial model that can work.”
Byrne said there still wasn’t any kind of timetable set for when any changes would be designed, announced or implemented.
”I think it will be more of a renovation than a new building,” Alabama men’s basketball coach Avery Johnson said.
Remodel. Coleman already underwent a $29.6 million renovation in 2005. And it was out-of-date before the first brick was laid or last coat of paint dried. And now the University finds itself in the must-need position of having to slap tens of millions of more dollars in lipstick on this antediluvian pig.
And it will take that much to enhance the student experience, bring Coleman into modernity, and add luxury amenities for donors:
Johnson said they are addressing student participation in the game-day environment. Both Ole Miss and Auburn’s arenas have students sitting courtside, almost right on top of the floor. Alabama moved students to the sideline two years ago, but the angle of Coleman’s seating bowl leaves them a significant distance from the action.
“Also, how can we have better and more high-level VIP experiences for our season ticket holders?” Johnson said.
I’m not certain, with its harsh seating and concourse layout, how these objectives can be accomplished. Every seat, every pillar, every scrap of timber, every parquet slab, every interior wall will need to come down to make The Mausoleum more intimate, fan-friendly, student-friendly, more accessible, more visible, brighter, and finally be a building worth having that Script A at its center court.
This is a matter of priorities. Basketball in general, and Coleman Coliseum specifically, were all-but ignored by two previous administrations. It cannot survive negligence and back-burnerism by a third. The university needs to cease the cloak-and-dagger, seek ideas from stakeholders and donors, and finally have an open, productive discussion of what to do and how to pay for it.
Our wallets will open. At the same time, we also know that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and expecting different results.
And we’re not insane.