After weeks, months and years of committed efforts, the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation (OMAF) has closed its loan with Regions Bank to build a new basketball arena and a parking garage at the University of Mississippi — the largest construction project in its history. Leadership involved in the process called completion of the loan a "historic day" in the life of Ole Miss.
"There have been a lot of people who have worked hard with Regions, Butler Snow and obviously people here in the foundation," said Keith Carter, associate athletics director for development. "Our foundation board has been instrumental, Lee Tyner with the university attorney's office has been instrumental, Larry Sparks was tremendous — it's the culmination of a lot of hard work. This allows us to take that next step, and from a donor's standpoint, show that we are moving forward, and we are excited about it. The next step is to get shovels out and start construction."
In a book still being written, the OMAF can now turn the page and begin the next chapter. With financing of the arena secured with Regions, construction of the arena and garage can begin on the proposed timetable.
"We've been talking for so long. …To actually see it happen, that's what people have been waiting for," Ole Miss Director of Athletics Ross Bjork said. "To be able to do that, have the garage starting after the semester is over, to have the site excavation starting in March and the arena starting in May — now people can say, 'This is really happening.' It shows progress and every day we're trying to make progress. This is a big, big step toward reality."
The new basketball arena will seat approximately 9,500 fans, and include a number of first-class amenities to serve Ole Miss students, student-athletes and fans. The arena will be positioned on the west side of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in the space currently occupied by the Rebel Shop and a parking lot. A five-story parking garage with 800 spaces to serve the entire campus community will be built on the south end of the arena where the northern most football practice field is now located.
"This arena is going to be great for the university broadly," UM Chancellor Dan Jones said. "We will have students graduating in that facility and we will have the opportunity to be entertained in that facility. It's going to be much larger than just providing a great place for us to play basketball. It's another symbol of excellence for our university. We'll move from having the worst arena in our conference to having a state-of-the-art arena that everybody's going to want to emulate. It's great for the university.
"The word confidence comes to mind: confidence that our fans, our season ticket holders and our donors have in our athletics program; the confidence that I have in Ross Bjork and his leadership; the confidence that we have in the direction of our basketball teams under Coach (Andy) Kennedy and Coach (Matt) Insell; and the confidence that we have overall in the direction and growth of the university. We've known we needed a new arena. This is going to offer opportunities for us to go higher and higher," said the chancellor.
Chairman of the OMAF Board of Governors Don Frugé of Oxford agreed. "Ross and his team are doing an absolutely splendid job. People love to visit with Keith Carter and his group because they're generous, straight-forward and transparent. Everybody knows where everything stands, and that's the way it ought to be. Clearly Ross is the leader of the athletics department, and he has hit the ground running and hasn't stopped yet."
Construction on the new arena will begin in the spring of 2014 with the goal to open the arena no later than January 2016, which would be in time for conference action. Carter said the construction will create some challenges.
"We will start the garage piece probably in mid-December. We will get the arena site work going in March of 2014. It's going to be fun — it will be a mess, bear with us, but we look at that as progress. This project is something that's been needed for a long time and it's finally here."
To learn more about making a gift to the campaign or securing seats in Ole Miss' various athletic venues, individuals and organizations are encouraged to visit www.ForwardTogetherRebels.com or contact the Ole Miss Athletics Foundation at (662) 915-7159.