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January 9, 2013

Cats Confidential: Greg Byrne on McKale Center renovations

If Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne has his way, he might be in search of a new office at McKale Center.

The athletic department received approval Dec. 6 from the Arizona Board of Regents to begin the design phase of an $80 million renovation to the 39-year-old building. Although it is still "really early in the process," there is one vision dancing around Byrne's mind.

The ideal model would include a club area - across from the Cherry Avenue parking garage where Byrne's office currently resides - as part of an idea that would expand McKale Center outward and give the arena a complete facelift.

"The hope is to get it to be where it's one concourse enclosed that you can walk around and have the restrooms and concessions and everything tied to it," Byrne told GOAZCATS.com's Evyn Murray on Tuesday afternoon. "If we do go with that type of model - and it may change - the front of McKale will look like a completely different arena."

It would be the most significant upgrade to the arena since it opened in 1973, when it was constructed for $8.1 million.

Once any plans are created, however, the athletic department will need further approval from the regents before any construction begins. But, for now, put that idea in the "maybe" pile.

The most immediate plans will be separated into two categories: fan amenities and student-athletes.

To enhance the fan experience, upgrades to seating, the video board, restrooms and concessions are in the discussion.

When the UA men's basketball team travels to Oregon for Thursday's contest, Byrne and a group of donors will tour Matthew Knight Arena that morning. The $227 million facility, which opened January 2011, is the nation's most expensive on-campus arena.

In search of ideas, Byrne also has toured UCLA's new-look Pauley Pavilion, which reopened this season after a $132 million renovation that forced the Bruins to move men's basketball home games off campus to the Los Angeles Sports Arena and Honda Center.

McKale Center is expected to remain open, however, with construction plans split into two phases. Private donations and UA athletic revenue will fund the project, and Byrne said the department is "actively raising money."

The Capital Development Plan presented to the regents targeted summer 2014 for construction to begin.

"If it's a couple years from now and we have a shovel in the ground, that would be pretty good," Byrne said. "Maybe two years, maybe three years from now."

As for the teams that occupy McKale, locker rooms sit atop the priority list and "need to be addressed," Byrne said.

Expected to help alleviate the issue is the football team's move to the $72 million Lowell-Stevens north end zone facility across the way at Arizona Stadium. The move could be made as early as the end of July.

"Space is a big issue," Byrne said. "With football moving out, that will help some of that."

Academic support and team meeting areas also are on the list.

Ultimately, the big-picture goal is to "set McKale up for the next 40 years," Byrne said.

Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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