DESTIN, Fla. | In the breezy, surf side elegance of the Florida hotel where the Southeastern Conference holds its annual meetings, the last building that one would think of on a sunlit afternoon would be Coleman Coliseum.
The Crimson Tide’s home arena for basketball and gymnastics wasn’t a league-wide topic but the topic did come up with both UA director of athletics Greg Byrne and men’s basketball coach Avery Johnson. Byrne was asked about the facility, though, and said that the discussions which have been ongoing almost since the day he took over at Alabama nearly 15 months ago are “trending to renovation,” although he was quick to add that no final plan has been approved yet.
The quick scorecard on the plus/minus scale regarding Coleman Coliseum are this.
The facility is 50 years old, venerable by the standards of Power Five conference arenas (although it is certainly not the oldest in the nation by any means). From its construction, it was designed more to be functional than an aesthetic and architectural wonder and it has done that, at an original cost of about $3.6 million dollars in 1967. That figure is from the December 1967 Tuscaloosa News article about the imminent opening of what was then called Memorial Coliseum. Even that first article referred to the building as “cavernous,” just as an aside.
On the other hand, site preparation and construction costs for a new arena on a different area of the UA campus (or even a demolition/rebuild that would render the sports teams that use Coleman homeless for at least a year) would be prodigious. Byrne didn’t mention any figures but such a project would run well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The other opinion that was sought, of course, was Avery Johnson, who also happened to be in Destin, who was his “preference” in what boils down to a debate between fixing it up and blowing it up.
“My preference is that we have to address our home facility,” Johnson said in a sort of a cross-over dribble of an answer, one where you thought you had a clear view of an opinion and then you didn’t.
“I’ve sat in on a lot of meetings about it,” Johnson said. “I won’t say it’s been two years, but it hasn’t just been two months. Greg has provided great leadership in that area.
“I think it will be more of a renovation than a new building,” Johnson said. “Without sending out the alarm, I think it’s more about how we can transform Coleman.”
“Increasing our student participation has certainly been talked about,” Johnson said. “Also, how can we (provide) a better, more high-level experience for our season ticket holders and not just the team on the court? Frankly, those experiences are critically important.”
What Johnson said he does not want is a renovation that would just be “slapping another coat of paint” on Coleman Coliseum. That might include anything, ranging from reconfiguration of the seating (which would probably involve reduction of capacity, especially as skybox-type seating is part of any plan) to fixing the lights. While fans are divided about building a new Coliseum, everyone agrees that Coleman is currently lit like a 1930s horror movie, and not a high-class Universal Studios production either, but a Republic Studios B-shocker like “Valley of the Zombies.” I don’t know who does the lighting for the Golden Knights hockey team in Las Vegas, but, renovation or rebuild, Alabama should ask.
There probably won’t be a final word on the project until the late summer or fall. As Coleman ages, the sooner, the better.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.