Mack Rhoades Talks Up UH's Ambitious Stadium/Arena Plan

The announcement UH students, alums, and sports fans have been awaiting came late last week when the plans for the school's new football stadium and renovated basketball arena were leaked by Steve Campbell of the Houston Chronicle. The total expected costs are about $160 million and should bring the school's aging facilities up to 21st century standards. But just because the plans are out there, doesn't mean that things are go for construction.

"We're going to have raise quite a bit of money in order to get both projects going," Houston athletic director Mack Rhoades said last week. "We feel like we have to raise about $80 million in terms of the football stadium, and somewhere around $30 million for the basketball arena.  We're going to work hard over the next 12 months to do that, and hopefully make this vision a reality."

And that $110 million will just get the ball rolling. Hopefully, with the ball rolling, the rest of the project will roll into place.

The project includes a brand new football stadium, replacing Robertson Stadium. The new stadium would seat 40,000 fans and could expand up to 50,000-plus. It would include 650 club seats, 200 loge box seats, and 22 luxury suites. The stadium would also include locker rooms, game facilities, and a UH sports hall of fame. And it would retain a view of the city's skyline.

A renovated Hofheinz would now include practice facilities for men and women's basketball and women's volleyball, two practice courts, office suites for the basketball and volleyball coaches, team academic and film rooms, a sports performance center, and a sports medicine clinic. Once completed, the renovated arena would seat 8,593 fans.

Basketball coach James Dickey is pleased that the school decided to renovate Hofheinz instead of replacing it, calling it one of the toughest places he ever had to coach game in.

"That's one of the things that's great about the thought process in this project is that you've preserved the history," Dickey said last Friday. "When you have that place full, you do have a great home court advantage. It's very loud in there, great sight lines. I think that's the thing they're going to work very hard to keep. And I'm sure they're going to try to get some people closer to the floor, around the oval, in the bottom, and upgrade and update some things that will make it very fan-friendly. And certainly it's important to the student body, but I think being able to maintain that great atmosphere you have in there when it's full is going to be very important."

Rhoades is excited about the changes the new facilities can bring, and the energy was evident on the campus last week. But it's not enough to have the energy and the plans.  Rhoades still has to raise the money.

"It's about getting out and raising the money," he said. "If we're able to do that, I'm confident we'll end up having these facilities. We're committed to doing it. Again, we want to be a program that's ranked in the Top 25 to be competitive nationally. I think this certainly will help us in that direction. Football right now, going into season is ranked in the Top 25, but we need all of our programs to be there, and this is our goal. This commitment to facilities is going to help that."

When I spoke to Rhoades before last football season, there were no plans, just some vague concepts. One thing he spoke of was making the facilities available to the entire university and the community. And that's something of which he still favors.

Depending on the football stadium surface, which depends on whether the Dynamo can ever get their stadium built, the Cougars hope to host things like high school football, intramural sports, and letting the band use it for practice. But that happens only if a synthetic surface is used for the stadium.  

"With Hofheinz, we really looked at potentially turning it into a special events center where you could host concerts, circus, and all of those things," Rhoades said. "What we found is that is really difficult to do without raising the roof and spending a lot more money, approximately $30 million more, in order for it to turn into a special events center. So we'll do the basketball, play volleyball in there, graduations -- ours, high school graduations. And then certainly, we'd love to host high school playoff games there."

The money raising starts this week, and it's something that Rhoades has been waiting to do.

"I'm extremely excited to go out and really now tell our story," he said. "Now that we can show pictures, we can share total costs, vision, how we're going to get this done. Extremely excited."  

The plans look nice. And Rhoades has the excitement and the vision to sell. He's just going to need a few buyers.