Changing the face of Stegeman Coliseum

ATHENS -- For almost a half-century, as the University of Georgia campus has changed all around it, Stegeman Coliseum has looked essentially the same from the outside.

The distinctive but dated building, home to UGA's basketball and gymnastics teams, will look quite different by fall.

A $12-million makeover will add modern glass exterior walls that soar to the overhanging parabolic roof and create space for wider, brighter concourses with more restrooms and concessions stands.

"I think it's going to look a lot more like a pro arena," UGA campus architect Danny Sniff said. "And if you look at the amount of money we're spending vs. tearing down and building a new one, it's nothing. But it's going to have that dramatic effect, I think."

To which UGA athletics director Damon Evans, standing nearby, said: "Well, it better."

Acting on Evans' recommendation, the UGA Athletic Association's board of directors this month approved the coliseum renovation. Construction is scheduled to begin in mid-May and be completed by the start of next basketball season in November.

The coliseum's signature feature –- the overhanging roof that was built as a separate structure from the building beneath it –- facilitates the renovation, which basically involves shoving out the exterior walls on the north and south sides without having to alter the roof.

The rounded roof, which cantilevers over the walls, is an iconic structure on UGA's campus. Longtime Georgia fan Jim Veal, 46, of Tucker, fondly described the look in a recent blog as that of "a massive, white flying saucer that seems to have landed gracefully in the middle of campus."

Said Sniff: "From an architectural standpoint, we're going to preserve the uniqueness of the structure because this hyperbolic paraboloid [roof] is pretty neat architecturally. I'd even say it's very significant. And by using glass ... to clad the exterior ... I think it's a great complement to the concrete structure itself."

The project comes as Georgia's men's basketball program is showing signs of progress under first-year coach Mark Fox. Although in the early stages of a rebuilding process, the Bulldogs (11-13, 3-8 SEC) have upset three nationally ranked opponents, including Georgia Tech. Entering Saturday's game against Alabama in Stegeman, the Dogs are 10-3 at home, a sharp contrast to their records on the road (0-9) and on neutral courts (1-1).

The team's success at home has reaffirmed Fox's belief, expressed from his first day in town, that UGA doesn't need to tear down Stegeman and build a new arena in order to thrive in basketball.

"Everyone said when I came we needed a new place," Fox said after the Bulldogs upset Vanderbilt two weeks ago. "Heck, no, we don't need a new place. We just need great fans like we had tonight and the right effort."

He added that the coliseum provides a good environment that will become better after the upcoming renovation.

The building opened in 1964 as the Georgia Coliseum and was renamed in 1996 in memory of Herman J. Stegeman, who coached basketball and other sports and served as athletics director during a 20-year UGA tenure from 1919 to 1939.

The seating bowl has undergone several major renovations over the years. The stage that used to be on one end of the court is long gone, as are the rodeos that were held in the building annually for decades. A state-of-the-art $30-million practice and training facility opened adjacent to the 10,500-seat coliseum in 2007.

But, for all of those changes, the concourse and the façade have remained vintage 1960s.

"What we wanted to do first and foremost" Evans said, "is upgrade our fan amenities [by improving] our restrooms and concessions areas. The other thing is the aesthetic factor. The glass wall will enhance the overall look."

Building a new arena probably would cost around $100 million and Georgia didn't seriously consider that possibility.

"When you fix these concourses, when you fill [the stands], I love it," Evans said. "My goal is to enhance it as much as we can and to create the atmosphere by winning. If we do that –- start winning -– they'll come.

"We've just got to build this basketball program. It is going to be a task, but I believe we will get it done."

The Athletic Association board approved the renovation without deciding how to fund it. The association's reserve funds, which will reach $60 million by the end of this fiscal year, could be tapped to pay for some or all of the cost, or money could be borrowed at current low interest rates. The board's finance committee will study the options and make a recommendation.

Either way, the project is a go.

By shoving out the exterior walls, about 12,000 square feet of concourse space will be added. Existing concourse space will be renovated. Additional concessions stands will improve food variety and speed up sales, Evans said. Restrooms will be added and renovated.

Inside the seating bowl,  no changes are planned. Except, UGA hopes, an improved product on the court.

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