A thin layer of dust and the penetrating smell of paint fills 325,000 feet of encased concrete and steel. Bright yellow insulation peeks out from behind steel rods in the 30-foot-wide main concourse while mustard yellow tiles line the walls of the south concourse. With just under two months before its planned Oct. 1 completion date, the Paige Sports Arena is on schedule.
“We are on time, on budget, and besides a few inevitable last minutes things, it’s looking good,” said Chad Moller, MU athletic department spokesman.
The arena, which will house MU’s men’s and women’s basketball programs, boasts a seating capacity of 15,000. More than 9,200 season tickets have already been sold in addition to 22 of the 26 suites and all of the 16 loge boxes, or mini suites with four to six seats, and 1,000 club seats.
The front entrance features a boulevard lined with lights and a plaza that leads into the main concourse level. This level will house the ticket booth and concessions.
The arena has an open concourse. Unlike at the Hearnes Center, fans who leave their seats to buy a hotdog will still be able to watch the game from the east and west ends of the arena.
Director of external operations Eric Morrison said the suites, which are 27 rows off the court, have an increased value because of their closeness to the court. The suites are leased for five to seven years for $30,000 to $45,000 annually. A common hospitality room is available for all suite, loge box and club seat ticket holders and may be reserved for special events.
Student seating on the west end of the arena has 3,000 bench seats; 260 up front are reserved for members of the Zou Crew, MU’s student cheering section. The lower bowl area of the arena holds 60 percent of the seats, which are mainly yellow, backed seats with cupholders.
As an incentive for rowdy student fans, a ribbon banner and decibel meters will be placed around the arena, making for an “intimidating and tough environment” for the opposing teams, Morrison said.
Norm Stewart Court, named after the former MU men’s basketball coach, runs east to west and has retractable seating that will allow two full courts for practice or for camps. The increased floor size will also accommodate large concerts that the Hearnes Center cannot, Morrison said.
Another feature of the Paige Sports Arena is the “player development complex” that features three individual sections: the women’s wing, with its theater-style seating video room, a lounge and a locker room; a shared practice gym and weight room; and a men’s wing, which is identical to the women’s.
The practice gym boasts a larger court area than the Hearnes Center and has a window viewing area from the second floor women’s and third floor men’s basketball offices. This will allow more interaction between the administration and the athletes.
About 1,000 parking spaces were lost with the construction of the new arena, but Morrison said they will all be replaced shortly.
“From a parking standpoint, we’re putting back everything that went away,” Morrison said. “The parking will not be completely finished for this coming football season, but it will be for the ’04-’05 basketball season. It’s not really a net loss — more of a net gain.”
Morrison said many of the lost parking spots were not really used as parking during football season anyway.
Morrison said that in October the athletic department will conduct open houses for students, faculty and fans who would like to view the arena pre-season. Plans for those tours will be finalized within the next few weeks.
The first athletic event will likely be an exhibition basketball game in late October or early November, but a specific date and whether it will be the men’s or women’s team is still uncertain, Moller said.
The $75 million arena was funded by a $25 million donation from Bill and Nancy Laurie, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, $35 million from the Missouri General Assembly and $15 million from the MU department of intercollegiate athletics. The Lauries maintain the rights to the arena’s name, which bears the name of their daughter, for the next four years.
The multipurpose Hearnes Center will continue to house the volleyball, gymnastics, indoor track and wrestling teams and will also host concerts and special events.
Missourian reporter Suzanne Lackey contributed to this report.