When Greg Byrne, Alabama’s athletics director, shared an early rendering of what Coleman Coliseum’s planned upgrade might look like, he says Crimson Tide men’s basketball Avery Johnson took a lap around the office in his excitement.
Said Johnson, “I think I did two.”
Women’s basketball coach Kristy Curry’s reaction was similar: “I was probably dancing. I have good rhythm,” she said.
Those plans were unveiled Thursday as part of UA’s Crimson Standard athletics facilities upgrade initiative, a total package priced at $600 million over 10 years. The renovation of Coleman Coliseum is priced at an estimated $115 million and could start at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season.
The coliseum, home to Alabama’s men’s and women’s basketball and gymnastics teams as well as coaching offices and weight rooms for several other sports, opened in 1968. That wasn’t lost on Johnson when he interviewed for the job in the spring of 2015.
“Man, how old is this building?” he asked.
“During that process there wasn’t any promises made, but the thought was Coleman will be addressed at the appropriate time,” he said. “And now is the appropriate time. …
“I’m fired up about it. I’m fired up about what it’s going to do for recruiting, what it’s going to do for fan experience.”
It will also be more intimate. About 4,000 seats will be lost, reducing capacity to around 9,500 or 10,000, according to projections.
“We want to provide the best fan experience for our fans, and there’s going to be a ticket for everybody,” Johnson said. “We’re obviously … going to have different levels of pricing, but whether you’re a fan and sit in the nosebleed section or somebody on the court (level), we just think we’re going to have a good overall experience.”
The upgrade will use the existing foundation – Coleman Coliseum won’t be torn down, but it will be gutted. The floor level will be raised, seating will be moved 10 feet closer to the floor, a third level of upper-deck seating will be added on each side of the floor, student seating will be placed baseline to baseline on one side of the court and club spaces will be installed on the floor and concourse levels. Additionally, the lobby will be upgraded and the concourse areas will be widened.
“It’s going to be night and day difference what people experience at Coleman Coliseum,” Byrne said.
Byrne isn’t sure if Alabama will have to find another place to play for a season while the work is done. He’s hopeful the SEC will accommodate plans by scheduling the Crimson Tide men’s and women’s teams to play on the road for the last two weeks of the season – whether that’s 2021-22 as hoped or later – to allow renovations to begin earlier, and the next season could start with UA playing road games out of conference while work is completed.
How much can we get done, let’s say, in 10 months. We don’t know that answer yet,” Byrne said.
Enhanced lighting and video boards will be part of the new-look arena. Raising the floor will put the fans closer to the curved ceiling of the building. Byrne has a vision of using that to project images on the roof.
“Kind of something different than anyone else has done,” he said.
Byrne said tearing down Coleman Coliseum and building a completely new arena would have cost about $70 million more for basically the same upgrades.
Johnson and Curry can’t wait.
“When you look at who we’re recruiting against and when you look at the fan experiences and you look at the student experiences … this is what we need as we move into the future,” Curry said. “To compete in all those areas we have to do this, so we’re pretty fired up.”
Said Johnson, “Just give us time. We’re going to make it work and we’re going to do our darnedest to make sure everybody’s happy with what we’re doing at the newly-renovated Coleman.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.