Sparking a Transformation
Rarely does the opportunity arise to forever change the face of a university. But College Park Center is just such a history maker. Not only does the dazzling facility fulfill the long-held dreams of a generation of alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends, it represents a symbol of UT Arlington’s rising arc of excellence.
The grand opening of College Park Center was a night like no other in UT Arlington’s 117-year history, the electricity of the moment rivaled only by the promise of what lay ahead.
With eyes focused on the center-hung, four-sided video display, more than 6,200 blue– and orange-clad fans watched President James D. Spaniolo shoot a free throw on the stage of Texas Hall, the unconventional home of Mavericks basketball and volleyball for the past 47 years. In the video, the ball bursts through the wall, rockets across campus like a meteor, and crashes through the roof of College Park Center.
Synchronized pyrotechnics gave the impression that the ball landed on the new court, “cutting” a giant blue ribbon to signal the center’s opening. Mix in a performance by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and victories by the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and you had a near-perfect evening.
“It was an unforgettable experience,” says Emily Hoad ’99, a past Alumni Association president. “After years of hearing UTA dismissed as a so-called ‘commuter school,’ I couldn’t get past the feeling that we had arrived! I’ve always been proud to call UTA my university, and now the rest of the world could see why.”
The venue itself drew widespread acclaim. Media reports called the $78 million, 218,000-square-foot arena “eye-popping,” “luxurious,” “game-changing,” and “exquisite.” It seats 7,000 for sporting events, 6,750 for concerts, and 6,300 for commencement exercises.
The center features more than 100 LG television monitors and a 2,800-square-foot hospitality suite that can be divided into three sections. It also includes two full-size practice courts, a sports medicine center, an academic center for student-athletes, and a small theater for game video review and other uses.
“College Park Center’s amenities rival those of any college basketball arena of its size in the nation,” says Jim Baker, who became athletics director Feb. 1, the day the facility opened (see story New Athletics Director Sees Promising Future). “It is truly an elite venue.”
Designed by HKS Inc., architects of Cowboys Stadium, to meet LEED Gold standards for sustainability, the center mixes brick and stone with large windows to maximize natural light. Other environmentally friendly aspects include a low-use water system, a highly reflective roof that reduces the solar load on the building, and native landscaping.
A New York Times article heralded College Park Center as “not just as a new era for the University’s sports programs, but for the University as well.”
This new era includes all-time highs in enrollment, research activity, and philanthropic support, as well as increases in student retention and quality. It is marked by a record number of students living on or near campus and a burgeoning sense of Maverick pride that’s spreading to the community.
College Park Center is the crown jewel of the University’s College Park District, a 20-acre, mixed-use development that promises to accelerate the resurgence of downtown Arlington. Scheduled to be completed this summer, the $80 million project includes street-level retail, a residence hall and apartments for 600 students, an 1,850-vehicle parking structure, and the Dan Dipert University Welcome Center.
Within its first five weeks of operation, College Park Center hosted a sold-out concert by Grammy-nominated superstar Drake, ESPN Friday Night Fights, and nine UT Arlington basketball games, including a Homecoming victory by the men’s team over Texas State. It was also the focal point of the Homecoming street festival and parade. The University will hold commencement ceremonies there this spring, as will several area high schools.
For Hoad and many other alumni, that opening night video of a basketball blazing across the sky was much more than a special effect.
“College Park Center symbolizes the University’s meteoric growth over the past eight years,” she says. “Every alum should come back and see the University’s transformation for themselves.”
With the debut of College Park Center, the decades-long dream of a first-class facility for athletics, commencements, concerts, and other high-profile events has finally come true. And dreams of new milestones have already begun.