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UA benches downtown arena concept

Wildcat basketball to stay at renovated McKale Center

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After looking at building a new arena downtown, the University of Arizona will keep its basketball program at McKale Center, Athletic Director Greg Byrne said Wednesday night.

The university will renovate the arena, which opened in 1973, Byrne said in an email. UA basketball, volleyball and gymnastics teams use the 14,500-seat facility.

The UA athletic department studied building a new 18,000-seat arena downtown, setting up a group of boosters to examine the possibility in February.

"However, after continuing to study the idea, while at the same time weighing it against renovating the McKale Center, we have ended up where we thought we would - at McKale," Byrne said.

"We will begin over the coming months to develop very early plans to renovate McKale," Byrne said.

"We will work with President Sander, his replacement and the Arizona Board of Regents to develop plans that will set up our men’s & women’s basketball, gymnastics & volleyball programs for years to come," Byrne said. "We will balance the needs of those programs, the rest of our teams that use McKale for academic & training support, and the amenities that we are able to offer our fans to give you a great experience. This will be a long process that will take time and money to develop, but one that we will be important for the future of our athletics department."

A 2009 plan called for wrapping McKale with enclosed concourses, upgrading locker rooms, restrooms and concession areas for $155 million.

In February, Byrne said "there are no current plans to build a new arena downtown," but that the idea merited consideration.

"Although our facilities have served us well over the years, many need substantial improvements going forward from a fan amenity standpoint and from a recruiting and student-athlete standpoint," he said at the time.

Byrne has pointed to issues with restroom and concessions at many UA athletic facilities, including the 38-year-old McKale Center. Adding club seating and skyboxes to the arena, or building a new one, could add a significant revenue stream to the basketball program.

A proposal to build an arena downtown drew nothing but air in 2008 when cost estimates reached $200 million. An 18,000-seat facility could cost as much as $350 million, planners said.

Constructed for $8.1 million, McKale has undergone numerous upgrades since the first game was played there in February 1973.

The playing floor was replaced in 1983 and 1998. Chair-back seating was installed in 1984, and additional seats were added from 1988-2000.

The center scoreboards were upgraded in 1992 and 2001.

The adjacent Richard Jefferson Gymnasium was recently constructed for $20 million.

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