By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – The backdrop for the day was a hole large enough to fit much of the city’s famed square.
That in itself made clear that Thursday’s “ground breaking” for the new basketball arena and multi-purpose facility at Ole Miss was a soft term.
It was still important to mark that day, and that’s what university officials and special guests did under a tent adjacent the northwest corner of the football facility, Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“It’s ceremonial, but it shows it’s a reality. We’ve seen the construction fence, the dirt going out, the parking garage going up, but you’ve got to really celebrate a milestone like this,” athletics director Ross Bjork said.
The building has an $85 million pricetag and is expected to open in December of 2015.
Bjork also announced the arena’s name, and it, like the building, is under construction. The new facility will be called “The Pavilion at Ole Miss.”
That will change if the school can sell naming rights. The buyer’s name would be inserted in front of “pavilion.”
Those discussions are on-going but not at a stage that Bjork was able to offer specifics. The rights could be sold to an individual or family as well as a corporation. Which way it goes could determine the length of the naming contract. A corporation may pay for a shorter term, while a family’s name could be for the life of the building.
Whatever the case, Bjork believes naming rights will bring closure to the school’s fund-raising campaign, which is currently a little more than $37 million from its $150 million goal.
“It would, no question,” Bjork said.
Men’s basketball coach Andy Kennedy, women’s coach Matt Insell and several of their players attended the ceremony.
Kennedy, entering his ninth season as coach, has long told recruits about the “idea” of replacing aging Tad Smith Coliseum. Now he has something tangible to show off.
“We’ve been recruiting to this for about eight years,” he said. “Really, kidding aside, this is the first class we can recruit to that will be playing in this building. That will help us gain traction with the type of student-athletes you need to compete for championships.”
In designing the Pavilion at Ole Miss officials borrowed heavily from arenas at Auburn, Missouri and Missouri State. They looked at buildings at Oregon and UCLA as well.
Bjork previously worked in fund-raising at Missouri and UCLA.
Among other amenities, the arena will include a lounging area with a kind of “student union feel” plus two chain restaurants that will be open Monday through Friday.
Announced in the late summer of 2011, the capital campaign had generated $62 million when Bjork was hired 21⁄2 years ago.
Attention now turns to the Vaught-Hemingway project to bowl in the north end zone, as was done for the south end zone in 2002.
Bjork would like the campaign to reach $120 million to make that happen.
“We’ve got some pieces we hope we can begin construction on after the season,” he said. “That’s kind of the next round of our announcements, what happens to that north end zone.”