UC proposes $70M renovation of Fifth Third Arena


The University of Cincinnati’s 25-year-old sports arena could be in line for a $70 million facelift.

A proposal submitted to the state’s facilities construction commission outlines the renovation plan for Fifth Third Arena.

The project would reduce the amount of seating, but improve visibility in the arena. It would also upgrade club areas, restrooms, and even add a new roof.

The documents were filed with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission and call for an overall project within a 20-month time frame.

“The need for fewer, but better seating options has driven the University’s decision to evaluate possible renovation options for the interior and exterior of this structure,” the school said in its file proposal.

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According to documents, the court itself would not be reoriented. Preliminary studies have ruled that out.

There would be better seating options and an all-encompassing upgrade that would include improved lighting, concessions, concourses and suites. The exterior, considered uninteresting and vanilla-like, would also be modernized.

Although no funding has been identified yet, Athletic Director Mike Bohn indicates an “extensive” process for that is underway.

Built in 1989, the Fifth Third Arena, previously known as the Shoemaker Center, is considered by many to be outdated and less-than-suitable for a modern, big-time college program.

“Those of us who have been around Cincinnati know that there have been talks about (it),” said Bearcat head basketball coach Mick Cronin. “Fifth Third Arena originally was The Shoe and it was built as an all-purpose facility and since (then), everybody realized, hey, this really wasn’t a basketball arena, it was built for intramurals at that time, that something needed to be done.”

UC’s recent renovation of Nippert Stadium cost $86 million, funded by donors and bonds.

If the project is started, it would reportedly take two years, starting in April 2016 and wrapping up in November 2017.

The accelerated schedule is desired to avoid disrupting more than one basketball season, the school said.

As Mac’s Pizza Pub near the campus prepared to open this morning, owner Mac Ryan, a diehard UC supporter and booster, said “The ‘ol girl could use some help,” referring to the arena.

Ryan said the collapsible seating arrangement needs to go and the corner spaces should be utilized.

Ryan likes the upgrade idea for an additional reason as well.

“It stops all the future conversation about taking the games down to US Bank Arena,” Ryan said. “That’s not anything that anybody wants. We don’t want that here and frankly, I think that, you know, at least when I went to school, I want to be able to walk out of my door as a sophomore, walk across campus and go to a basketball game on my campus.”

According to the filed document, student, fan and alumni expectations have changed in the 25 years since the arena was built, and so has the cost. It was $32 million back then.

In a written statement Friday afternoon, UC Athletic Director Mike Bohn said, “We are excited about the impressive concepts and progress surrounding Fifth Third Arena, but no approvals have been granted by the Board of Trustees about a potential renovation. Our extensive process includes identifying resources from our passionate supporters and partners. We look forward to working with our colleagues on campus to provide a first-class, privately funded facility that all Bearcats can be proud of. We will share additional project details as we know more.”

The documents said UC will provide access to Fifth Third Arena for any interested firms on Nov. 18.

Cronin expressed confidence today in Bohn, noting he has the track record and experience to shepherd such a project.

“Just to get our practice gym painted took me a year, just to get it painted. It took me six years to get it decorated,” Cronin said.

Cronin’s point was well taken. It’s not merely a matter of soliciting fundraising commitments and scheduling demolition work.

“The politics, the roadblocks and the things that Mike Bohn has got to navigate to get this done are going to require all his experience,” Cronin said.

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