Arena Construction and Renovations
By Emily Janowski
The Origin of the Arena
Since the 1950s, basketball has been a tradition that brings the entire Dayton community together at the University of Dayton. From 1951 to 1969, the University of Dayton basketball team played in what was known as the Fieldhouse. It opened on November 29, 1950 with the help of then University of Dayton basketball coach Tom Blackburn and alumni support. The Fieldhouse hosted numerous games and thousands of fans for eighteen years.[ii]
During that time University of Dayton basketball rose to national prominence. Towards the end of the 1960’s other universities were building bigger, updated facilities, making the Fieldhouse seem outdated and inferior. The Fieldhouse had limited seating, offering 5,882 seats with 992 tickets reserved for students and 4,400 tickets reserved for season ticket holders. This meant that the Fieldhouse could only sell 700 more tickets for games.[iii] The limited seating and outdated facility became a real issue when larger universities refused to play at the Fieldhouse and began taking the University of Dayton off of their basketball schedules.
In the late 1960s, Tom Frericks, the University of Dayton’s athletic director, proposed building of a new arena to solve these issues. In Frericks’ initial proposal, he wanted to construct a round facility similar to Western Kentucky University which had 13,000 seats for basketball, a swimming pool, handball courts, auxiliary courts, and classrooms. He ultimately wanted a facility that could be utilized by the entire student body, not the basketball team alone. It could be used for various other events, including graduations, traveling shows, and other basketball games. However, the university did not have the estimated twelve to fifteen acres for this project let alone the seven to eight million dollars estimated would be needed to fund it.[iv]
When Frericks began the effort to build an arena, he hoped the city of Dayton would partner with the university. Partnering with the city would solve the issue of funding for the arena and create a stronger relationship between the city and the university. On July 28, 1967, Frericks, President Roesch, Mayor Dave Hall, and city officials met to discuss the location of the arena. The city wanted to build a multipurpose arena located downtown in order to draw more traffic into the central business district where they hoped business would expand. The Dayton City Commission proposed that the arena be built in western downtown, East of the Miami River and next to Interstate 75 to facilitate a productive business flow. According to Frericks, the university agreed with the city’s plan and was willing to contribute two million dollars to the construction of a downtown multipurpose arena. However, Frericks also had concerns about building an arena downtown as construction would be expensive, parking would be limited, and the facility would be smaller than he hoped for.[v]
In the meantime, Frericks had identified land owned by the Miami Conservancy District. One of the biggest issues the University of Dayton faced before and during construction of the arena was the property on which the arena would sit. The Miami Conservancy District owned the majority of the land around the Miami River opposite of the University of Dayton. Overtime, both the Dayton Public Schools and the University of Dayton became interested in this land to construct sports facilities. In 1949, the Miami Conservancy District leased 10.16 acres to the Dayton School District High School Stadium Fund and they built “Welcome Stadium,” the local high school football and track stadium. In 1968, Tom Frericks arranged for Horace Boesch to swap land with the Miami Conservancy District who then donated the 4.591 acres to the University of Dayton to build an arena.[viii]
Right: “Athletic Director Tom Frericks … Launches new UD Arena construction.” Journal Herald Sports. Frericks Scrapbook. University of Dayton Archive, University of Dayton.
Financing for construction of the arena building itself had been provided by the Ohio Educational Facilities commission approved bonds and private funding.[xiv] Approximately four million dollars’ worth of first mortgage state revenue bonds from the state tax treasury were to be used to fund the arena. This solution was supported by Governor James Rhodes who instituted funding for private schools by state bonds.[xv] The university evaded any legal issues, allowing them to lease the structure from the state agency until the bonded debt was paid off in 1997, at which time the university bought the property for $500.[xvi]
Top Right: Layout of the arena seating. Frericks Scrapbook, Univessity of Dayton Archives. Right: “Lounge Seats 340 Diners; Widow Viewing Area in Background,” Stadiums-Arena. January 11, 1970. Dayton Daily Collection. Wright State Archives, Dayton, OH.
“U of D Fieldhouse Collapse.”Arena Collapse. March 2, 1969. University of Dayton Collection. Wright State Archives, Dayton, OH.
The arena sits on 4.5 acres of land southwest of “Welcome Stadium.” The structure is made up of a concrete foundation, structural steel frame, metal deck, insulation, and a built-up roof, taking up about 175,000 square feet of space. A portion of the facility is above ground and the other part is underground, as part of the plan to cut construction costs. That decision also a has resulted in the arena having, as Tom Frericks Jr. recounts, “good bones,” said to last another generation. The arena originally had only two entrances facing the northeast and the southwest. The ground level on which the visitors entered contained seating, two lobbies, concession areas, ticket and other offices, four restrooms, and other facilities. At the bottom of the twenty-four foot “well” of the arena, the collegiate size basketball court was made of tartan and measured to about 70 by 120 feet. On the floor level, there were bleachers that rolled back 110 by 120 feet to provide more room for event other than basketball. This level also had tunnel exits, lockers, facilities for officials, and meeting and storage rooms. The second and third sections had permanent seats below the surface level and the upper level contained seating and mechanical equipment. Although Frericks did not get the arena he wanted, he made sure that the majority of the 13,409 seats were courtside because they are the best seats to watch basketball. Therefore, the arena is uniquely shaped to accommodate his request.[xix]
One of the first major structural maintenance issues the new arena faced was flooding. Many blame the proximity to the Miami River for the flooding problems. However, the problem only became apparent in the 1970s. Gary McCans credits the loss of industry in the region to the flooding. He claims that when NCR and other big industries left the property now owned by the University of Dayton, it caused the water table to rise, which then became an issue for the university. Flooding was first detected when water was leaking into the student section during a game and pumps were installed in the arena in the late 1970s. Today, the pumps kick on when water gets in within two feet of the arena floor and takes it down five to six feet, and they are constantly running.[xx]
In February of 1978, the arena installed a new computerized scoreboard. Standing at eight feet and six inches high and fifty-six feet long, this piece of impressive technology was able to keep score and keep track of individual and team fouls. It was the university’s first scoreboard that is relative to the modern scoreboard. The scoreboard was controlled at the scorer’s table on a console. One observer at the time said, “(the console) looks like something from a Star Wars spaceship.”[xxi]The image also reveals the first message on the message board, “Hello Dayton Daily News.” The message board was a part of the scoreboard that was meant to keep fans up to date on sports news and game data. Ponderosa Systems Inc. and Winters National Corp. donated the scoreboard and secured advertising spots next to the board for ten years following their donation.[xxii]
Top Left: “Control Panel for New Scoreboard at UD Arena.” Stadiums-Arena.February 3, 1978. Dayton Daily Collection, Wright State Archives, Dayton, OH. Left: “New Scoreboard at UD Arena.” Stadiums-Arena.February 3, 1978. Dayton Daily Collection. Wright State Archives, Dayton, OH.
Another major project under consideration as early as 1980 was the installation of air-conditioning in the arena. In the summer of 1980, Frericks asked for estimates by four companies willing to install air-conditioning. He received an estimate from Mitchell and Jensen A.I.A. Architect and Engineer, laying out what they could do and any other renovations they thought were needed at the time. Mitchell and Jensen wanted to switch over to a hydrothermal air-conditioning system that uses natural cooling ground water resources. This method of air-conditioning would be more environmentally friendly and cost-effective. Mitchell and Jensen recommended other updates to cut costs on heating, cooling, and electricity bills. The total estimate was $15,700. This was one of four proposals Frericks received from local businesses.
Frericks also believed that installing air-conditioning would also create a new demand for use of the arena in the summer months. In February of 1981, Brother Ray Fitz, the president of the university, asked Frericks to do a financial feasibility study on the use of the arena in the summer time to determine the practicality of installing air-conditioning within the arena. After the study was completed, it was decided that air-conditioning was too expensive and would be financially impractical.[xxiii] However, the lack of air conditioning would remain an issue that would go unsolved until 2019.
In 1980 when air-conditioning was being considered, it was decided that the arena faced more immediate renovations needs. One costly project that the university took on was the installation of a wooden basketball court. The original court was made from “tartan” and had been replaced in the 1970s. At the time, the rubber flooring was considered to be innovative and it was inexpensive as the university was trying to stay on a strict budget. Another reason the university chose tartan flooring was due to the concerns that flooding might become a problem in the arena. A wood floor could not sustain the same water damage that a tartan floor could withhold.[xxiv] These concerns, as we have seen, ultimately were substantiated in the late 1970s.
Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s the renovations necessitated by the aging arena increased. Everything that happened at the arena, including parking, ticketing, complaints, upkeep, and more was overseen by the arena manager, Joe Eaglowski. He worked as the manager from opening day up through the 1990s, making him responsible for renovations that happened during that time. One of the first major improvements under Eaglowski was the implementation of new locker rooms. This addition was likely done to improve the comfort of both home and away teams as well as to maintain the arena’s excellence among other university arenas.[xxvii] By its twenty-year anniversary in 1990 the facility required roofing upkeep and new well pumps, which totaled in at over $160,000. The arena would also need new water pumps costing $50,000 within a matter of a couple years.
The need for alumni support increased as the University of Dayton decided to include an addition to the arena in order to uphold the status of the university’s basketball program. On November 21, 1997, the university hosted the Blackburn Dedication Dinner where it introduced the basketball court in the arena to Coach Blackburn, the second winningest coach in University of Dayton history. The proceeds of this dinner went towards the addition to the arena which would later be known as the Donoher Basketball Center, named after former University of Basketball coach, Don Donoher.[xxviii] The 23,000-square-foot basketball program support center attached to the UD Arenawas constructed to elevate the national stature of both the men’s and women’s basketball programs. An alum, John McHale, donated $1.25 million to the center, but he insisted that the university name the facility after the beloved Coach Don Donoher.
In order to build the center, the university needed more land. The Miami Conservancy District agreed to sell an additional .478 acres to construct the facility in April of 1997. The Donoher Basketball Center made its grand debut on June 28, 1998.[xxix] The Center was a $4.5 million addition to the southwest corner of the arena that was built as a facility for training, game preparation, and recruiting. The new addition would also have up-to-date air-conditioning, training rooms, locker rooms, multi-media facilities, and team meeting rooms. The locker rooms were styled after NBA locker rooms with lounges and meeting areas within them in order for the aging arena keep up with the modern university facilities developing around the nation.[xxx] With the new facility, the basketball program became more attractive to potential players. The continued success of Dayton basketball justified the 1998 expansion and has helped the program remain a major competitor in college basketball.
Modernizing the Arena
There are two reasons why the recent upgrades to the facility were justified: high attendance and the arenas continued use by the NCAA. The University of Dayton has hosted the most NCAA games in the nation, 121 games between 1970 and 2018.[xxxi] These tournaments have brought a lot of people to the city and to the arena and it is estimated that as many as fifteen million people have visited the arena. Therefore, the university has to keep up with the natural wear and tear of the facility due to the high amounts of visitors. As of 2018, the arena experienced its eighteenth consecutive season among the nation’s top thirty most attended NCAA programs, and it has never been outside the nation’s top thirty-five since the arena opened. Concerns that the NCAA would stop asking the university to host tournament games led to more improvements to the arena. As of the smallest facilities to host division one basketball events, the university needed to prove that the arena was one of the top facilities in the nation. Consequently, many of the recent modernizations the arena has undergone have been to retain hosting NCAA tournament games.
In response to these needs the arena underwent a 10-month renovation, costing $13.1 million in November 2002. This renovation included updates to make it more accommodating to modern spectators. New suites and loge seats were added along with a new scoreboard and upgraded restrooms and concessions. Illustrations were also added to walls of the arena that told the history of University of Dayton basketball. Boesch Lounge, named after the family that donated land for the arena in 1975, was remodeled to accommodate arena associate members and those willing to pay for premium seating. The Time Warner Cable Flight Deck was also added for premium seat holders, so they can eat and drink at the bar restaurant while enjoying the basketball games.Additionally, four new video screens were installed in the four corners of the arena in 2010 for the enjoyment of the spectators.[xxxii] In November of 2015, there was a four million dollar upgrade to the “Donoher Basketball Center.” The renovation included a “reconfiguration of the existing building layout to expand and update men’s and women’s basketball areas and training support spaces.”[xxxiii] Other features included were new locker rooms, lounge areas, hydrotherapy and support spaces.
“University of Dayton Re-Opens Nov. 1.” University of Dayton. Accessed December 9, 2018. https://daytonflyers.com/news/2018/10/31/mens-basketball-university-of-dayton-arena-re-opens-nov-1.aspx
The demands to continually modernize the arena have led to the most recent renovations that began in 2017. The University of Dayton Basketball Arena is undergoing a $72 million, three-year renovation. This is the largest project the university has undertaken in its 167-year history. It is a privately funded project with one of the major investors being Larry Connor, a local real estate mogul. The renovations are considered to be an investment in the future of the school, Dayton, and the Atlantic 10 conference. The University of Dayton Administration has claimed that the renovations will set a precedent for the other Atlantic 10 schools to follow. Additionally, Shauna Green, the woman’s basketball coach, believes that the renovations will help attract new talent. With all of the new renovations, the university hopes to keep the “soul” of the arena. It has transcended from the Fieldhouse to the arena before.[xxxiv]
The rest of the three-year renovation will continue in three phases, so it will not interrupt the basketball season or tournament schedules. The first phase took place in the off season of 2017. During this phase, the 100 and 200 level seats were updated with cup holders and handrails, the courtside seating was improved, and Americans with Disabilities Act seating increased from 46 to 78.[xxxvi] A new four-sided scoreboard and video board were added to the center of the arena as well as LED ribbon boards alongside the Spectrum Flight Deck and suites. The audio system was also replaced with a new updated version. New areas were added in the southeast and northeast corners of the arena for television broadcasting. The “crow’s nest” for was also removed and it was replaced with a new one in the upper east side seats, upgrading the broadcast infrastructure. In regard to the foundation of the arena, the dewatering pumps were upgraded, and platforms were installed for the new four corner terrace suites that will be finished in the later phases.[xxxvii]
The second phase of the renovations occurred in the off season of 2018. During this set of improvements, new 300 and 400 level seats were added along with new club seating between the 200 and 300 levels to the west side of the arena. As for the fans in the 300 and 400 levels of the arena, corner video boards were installed so they can experience the game fully without feeling so far away. Also, on the west side, a new concourse was added with upgraded restrooms and concessions. A south side and west side entrance were included with VIP parking. A new elevator and set of stairs were additionally constructed at these entrances. For the benefit of the modern spectator, a new wi-fi system was set up with a larger bandwidth. Additionally, the event level locker rooms and training room were updated to a more modern style. A new media room and press conference area were also installed to better enhance the university’s appearance on a national broadcasting level.[xxxviii] However, all of these improvements did not come without complications. In early August, a small fire started on the roof of the arena from hot ironwork that ignited some building materials. Luckily, the fire was small and isolated, so the second phase of construction continued without delay.[xxxix]
The third phase of the arena renovations will start in the off season of 2019. In this phase, the east side will get a face lift. New 300 and 400 level seats will be added along with new club seats on 200 and 300 levels. The east side will also get a new concourse with upgraded concessions and bathrooms. Inside the concourse will be a new main ticket box office, a lobby, and a team store fully embellished with updated finishes and branding. The four corner terrace suites will be also completed with an elevator on the east side terrace. The exterior of the arena will have a new design, upgraded lighting, and tasteful landscaping to give it a more appealing look. Finally, air-conditioning will be installed in the main arena for the comfort of the players and the Flyer faithful.[xl]
The University of Dayton Arena is a facility that brings together a community of students and those who live in the city to celebrate their love for basketball and the team who brings it to them. The arena is more than a venue for basketball games; it is an energizing atmosphere that spectators and players crave. The ambiance created by the Flyer faithful has transcended from the Fieldhouse, to the arena, and through all of the renovations the arena has undergone. The drive behind a new arena for the University of Dayton was the work of Tom Frericks. Not only did he help build the arena, but he also helped develop it to become the modern marvel it is today. Frericks and later athletic directors sought help from the Flyer faithful as they have funded renovations over the years, improving both the spectators’ and players’ experience within the arena.
[i]“History of Upgrades and Renovations,” n.d., Improvement Expenses, University of Dayton Archives, Dayton, OH.
[ii]Ritter Collett, The Flyers(Dayton: Landfall Press Inc., 1989), 13.
[iii]“A Summary of a Proposal for New and Improved Facilities for the University of Dayton Intercollegiate Athletic Teams and For General Student Body Activity,” 70 A(8), Box 1, Folder 3, Arena Projects/Improvements Collection, University of Dayton Archives, Dayton, OH.
[v]Dongbin Kim and John L. Rury, “The Changing Profile of College Access: The Truman Commission and Enrollment Patterns in the Postwar Era,” History of Education Quarterly46 (2007), 302-327.
[vi]Collett, The Flyers, 151.
[vii]Jim Bland, “Score on UD-Arena: 2-2-1, Game Over in Two Weeks,” Dayton Daily News, Frericks’ Scrapbook, University of Dayton Archives and Special Collections, Dayton, Ohio.
[viii]Correspondence from the Athletic Department to Dr. James Todd Uhlman, September 7, 2018.
[ix]“UD Arena Website Article,” UA.011, Box 1, Folder 9, Athletics Collection, University of Dayton Archives, Dayton, OH.
[x]“A Summary of a Proposal for New and Improved Facilities for the University of Dayton Intercollegiate Athletic Teams and For General Student Body Activity.”
[xi]Correspondence from the Athletic Department to Dr. James Todd Uhlman, September 7, 2018.
[xii]“Board of Education to Gerald VonderBrink,” 70 A(8), Box 1, Folder 10, Arena Projects/Improvements Collection, University of Dayton Archives, Dayton, OH.
[xiii]“History of Upgrades and Renovations,” n.d.
[xiv]“UD’s Arena New Arena Falls; 3 Hurt,” unidentified newspaper clipping, n.d., Frericks Scrapbook.
[xv]Charles Davis, “Using State Money for UD’s New Arena,” unidentified newspaper clipping, n.d., Frericks Scrapbook.
[xvi]Brainard Platt, “UD Works Out Plan to Erect Arena in ’69,” Journal Herald, Frericks Scrapbook.
[xvii]Si Burick, “Arena Not Built, but 11,270 Seats Gone Already,” Dayton Daily News(Dayton, OH), January 29, 1969.
[xviii]“Work Resumes on New Dayton Sports Arena,” Dayton Daily News, Frericks Scrapbook.
[xix]“UD Fieldhouse Plan,” n.d., Frericks Scrapbook.
[xx]Interview with Gary McCans (retired ticket director) and Tom Frericks Jr. in discussion with History 498 class, September 27, 2018.
[xxi]“New Scoreboard at UD Arena.” Stadiums-Arena.February 3, 1978. University of Dayton Collection. Wright State Archives, Dayton, OH.
[xxii]“New Scoreboard at UD Arena.” February 3, 1978. Wright State Archives, Dayton, OH.
[xxiii]“Letter from Stan Mitchell to Tom Frericks,” August 13, 1980, 70 A(8), Box 1, Folder 9, Arena Projects/Improvements Collection, University of Dayton Archives, Dayton, OH.
[xxiv]David Jablonski, “Removal of UD’s Arena Old Tartan Court Will Take a Month,” Dayton Daily News(Dayton, OH), May 26, 2017.
[xxv]“History of Upgrades and Renovations,” n.d.
[xxvi]“History of Upgrades and Renovations,” n.d.
[xxvii]“History of Upgrades and Renovations, n.d.
[xxviii]The Blackburn Dedication Dinner Invitation, October 20, 1997, UA.011, Box 1, Folder 14, Athletics Collection, University of Dayton Archives, Dayton, OH.
[xxix]Correspondence from the Athletic Department to Dr. James Todd Uhlman, September 7, 2018.
[xxx]“UD Arena Website Article,” n.d.
[xxxi]Kyle Rowland, “Dayton: A College Basketball Mecca Again Hosts the First Four,” The Toledo Blade(Toledo, OH), March 13, 2018.
[xxxii]“UD Arena Website Article,” n.d.
[xxxiii]“Donoher Center,” University of Dayton, accessed December 4, 2018, https://daytonflyers.com/sports/2013/8/8/MBB_0808135455.aspx.
[xxxiv]Will Garbe, “New Details: UD Arena’s $72 million upgrade biggest project in university history,” Dayton Daily News(Dayton, OH), May 11, 2017.
[xxxv]David Jablonski, “UD Arena losing a piece of its storied past,” Dayton Daily News(Dayton, OH), May 26, 2017.
[xxxvi]Will Garbe, “New Details: UD Arena’s $72 million upgrade biggest project in university history.” May 11, 2017.
[xxxvii]Will Garbe, “Timeline: Here’s when to expect changes at the UD Arena,” Dayton Daily News(Dayton, OH), May 11, 2017.
[xxxviii]Will Garbe, “Timeline: Here’s when to expect changes at the UD Arena,” May 11, 2017.
[xxxix]Kim Allen, “UD: Arena renovations will continue on schedule after roof fire,” WDTN(Dayton, OH), August 6, 2018.
[xl]Will Garbe, “Timeline: Here’s when to expect changes at the UD Arena,” May 11, 2017.