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Welcome to Villanova. We have high hopes for your success and wish you the best as part of the family. We want to support your efforts.
We would love to hear from you on the plans for a new arena or the renovation of the Pavilion. There is a lot of talk about what might be happening and what might not be happening. It seems responsible to just ask directly instead of swirling rumors.
When you were hired there was much talk and speculation that you were going to be focused on a replacement arena. This was driven by direct comments on your background and expertise and direct references to our arena project, although comments were always very broad and open.
From alumni meetings where you and Jay spoke, there was growing enthusiasm that your work on a new arena was underway. Not much has been said officially or publicly, but this November 2015 AP news piece was encouraging:
NEW ARENA: Villanova's 6,500-seat Pavilion opened in 1986 — and was outdated by 1987. Most high school gyms have more restrooms and concession stands than the Pavilion and Wright said plans are in full swing for either a new arena or complete renovation.
"We sell this place out every game," Wright said. "But for the school, we could create more revenue. The place looks great on TV. It's just not good for fans and it doesn't generate the revenue like a new arena would."
More recently, over the last month, there has been "talk" that this effort has lost ground and that you have been handcuffed into your predecessor’s plan.
Then this week a piece on APP.COM quoted Whitey, a beloved Nova insider:
The Pavilion, meanwhile, is in line for a renovation. Rigsby hopes the massive student section will be moved 15 feet closer to the baseline -- other possibilities include putting students on both baselines or the sideline -- but he does not expect the capacity to change.
Rigsby said the old joke is that the Pavilion has 6,501 seats -- "the one seat would be for a township employee who could make sure there’s not 6,502."
When we see Whitey’s comments in the press it tends to add credibility to some of the "talk" we might otherwise dismiss.
I am sure you know this background, but I am adding it here to emphasize the context. The Pavilion has been a source of controversy since it was opened the season after our 1985 National Championship. Prior to its opening we had moved many of our games to the much larger Palestra and some to the Spectrum, the predecessor to the Wells Fargo Center. Maybe the Pavilion tried to be too much as a multi-purpose facility and ended up being a jack of all trades and a master of none. It includes an indoor track, widely discussed as one lane short of regulation and not accessible with the building’s typical use configuration. 6,500 seats was shockingly small, but the talk was "don’t worry, it’s expandable to 8,500 or 9,000 seats, but we have to do this in steps". The roof and the lighting was supposed to be artistic. The lighting design was insufficient. Additional lighting was added, some of it hanging in front of the scoreboard which itself hangs low from the touted hyperbolic roof. The roof leaked and the artistic statement became an ugly patchwork (literally) of repairs. To top it off it was backed by Foxcatcher John duPont.
Gene DeFilippo spoke most openly and directly about the duPont Pavilion
Athletic director Gene DeFilippo said duPont is too small for a basketball program such as Villanova’s. "It’s obvious to anybody, with the success of the basketball team, 6,500 tickets is not enough,‘’ DeFilippo said. "With every game, you get deluged with requests.’’
Among Big East arenas, only St. John’s Alumni Hall, with a capacity of 6,008, is smaller than duPont, which was built at a cost of $15 million. Syracuse plays in the 33,000-seat Carrier Dome, and Georgetown in the 19,035-seat USAir Arena.
But a larger arena is a prominent part of the strategic plan DeFilippo is putting together for his department. Asked what the perfect capacity for a new on-campus facility would be, DeFilippo said 11,000 or 12,000.
Finally in 2008, the official Villanova Master Plan recognized the need, although it did not offer a plan or the proper details:
Seating should be improved and, if possible, increased. A facility with between 8,000 and 9,000 seats would be ideal.
Given the University’s other needs for on campus space, replacement of the Pavilion might be a long-term option, outside the time frame of the master plan. If so, renovations in the nearer term should be considered.
Athletic facilities compare unfavorably with those at other Division 1 schools. Even many schools with less developed athletics programs have better event spaces, practice facilities, locker rooms and meeting spaces. The University’s facilities limit the playing time of varsity, club, intramural and recreational athletes; hinder recruitments; limit the kinds of events Villanova can host; and impede some athletes’ reaching their full potential.
The nearer term came and went without action taken. Vince started to slowly roll out his plan for a $50M to $80M renovation in 2012. He presented it as better facilities with slightly fewer seats. For Novans that have lived this Pavilion history, with a reported near 20 year waiting list and consecutive sellouts going back to the start of the century, this plan was woefully inadequate and fiscally irresponsible. $50M to $80M for fewer seats. This plan was overwhelmingly rejected by Nova alumni.
With a vacuum of information on plan options or direction, many of us contributed to possible options on this VUHoops platform. It has been coined the Wawa Arena with anticipation of a major project with some type of corporate sponsorship. We have had thousands of responses in favor of the project, typically 90% in favor of the project. We have scoped business plans, benchmarked the conference and larger division 1 landscape, explored multiple site scenarios, and suggested season ticket plans including an enhanced student section and inclusion of special Young Alumni packages. We have done this while Nova, its admin, its trustees, and the athletic department have remained silent.
There are dozens of questions I would love to ask you including the football direction, the FCS and FBS landscape, the game-day experience for football, future conference alignment scenarios, etc. But the key issue for Nova Nation is the arena, so I’ll stay focused here.
We were encouraged by your straight talk comments when you were introduced and hope that you take this opportunity to communicate on the arena.
Question 1: Is there real background work in place for you to study the arena issue? Has a professional demand study been undertaken for men’s home basketball games? Benchmarking and business plan scenarios? How much of that work was completed to your satisfaction on arrival and how much more do you need to do oversee to be able to professionally study a future arena plan and make a recommendation?
Question 2: Will you include a committee of alumni to provide input before you make your recommendation? There is a wealth of expertise for you to tap. There were reports before your arrival that the architect of the Barclays Center had offered his help, but was rebuffed due to internal Nova politics. A little transparency and interaction would be refreshing.
Question 3: What do you see as the key barriers and challenges to a new arena?
Question 4: When do you expect to be able to offer your recommendation, and when might details on different scenarios be able to be expressed to alumni? How does this coordinate with fundraising efforts?
Question 5: When you were announced it was noted that you will be responsible for all aspects of the athletics department, including fiscal affairs, personnel, strategic planning, facilities, general operations and public relations. Do you feel that empowerment as it relates to our most critical facility issue, the new arena?
Question 6: Nova needs a new arena with a capacity of 10,000 to 15,000 seats. What help from alumni do you need to accomplish this goal? Can you get it done?