Last week, it came out that the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee had come to an agreement to purchase the Columbia campus of Columbia-St. Mary’s hospital. The university needed to take hold of this land, what chancellor Santiago calls the “final frontier” of campus expansion. Since the construction of Riverview, Cambridge, and Kenilworth residence halls, the need for dorm space has been reduced greatly. The university is now planning to use the hospital land as more than just student housing, which means that at least a significant portion of the land will be used for other purposes.
The money that was approved by the state for the Columbia land must be used for revenue-producing purposes, according to former Student Association official Kyle Duerstein. So we can’t use the land for academic space, because it’s not revenue-producing. This idea was fine when dorms were the main focus of the purchase, but now that dorm space, at least not 1,200 beds, is needed, and the possibilities of the basketball arena are there, naturally the question has aroused: should the basketball arena be put on this space?
The possibilities are excellent. Tucked in the northeast corner of campus, the Klotsche Center is separated from the Sandburg dorms by an acre of forest, north of the rest of campus. On the Columbia site, a basketball arena would be simply accessed by crossing a street; if the facility still included dorms, the possibility exists that a large amount of students could attend basketball games without ever walking outside.
The placement of the current facility is indicative of the campus’ view of athletics. Like the Klotsche Center, it’s shunted off to one side. It takes effort to reach out to athletics. On the hospital site, it comes to the main intersection of pedestrian foot traffic for everyone; humanities to the east, dorms to the north, sciences to the south. Every road leads to the arena.
Of course, this really isn’t an issue; the heart of the matter is this: do we pick up the whole basketball program and move them across Maryland Avenue, or do we expand in the current space with a renovated or new arena?
Personally, and this is just me spitballing, I prefer the arena to remain on the Klotsche Center arena footprint, mostly. I say mostly, because once we acquire the Columbia-St. Mary’s property, Norris Health Center’s operations should be moved to the space, freeing up the current facility for demolition. The fact is that the Norris building is short and takes up a bunch of space, not unlike the day care on the corner of Maryland and Kenwood that is slated to finally be busted into a bajillion pieces.
Once Norris is gone, the Klotsche Center Arena can be moved south, with the south wall of the arena coming to about where the north wall is of the current Norris facility. That extra space, combined with digging into the ground for the arena floor, will allow a permanent basketball arena of 6,000 (expandable to 8,000) to be built. Moving the court south, realigning it west-east and keeping its seating permanent will separate it from the current space, which will continue to be used as a practice facility for track, etc.
In fact, if the arena were to be fixated to the south, that practice space could be configured to serve multiple sports as a premium practice facility, not unlike Wright State’s Setzer Pavilion, which was cited by a recruit the other day as a reason he picked the Raiders. Move the wall west onto the unused lawn and the Klotsche Center can house a men’s basketball practice facility separate from other sports, something that coaches have had to compete with when bringing recruits on campus. In essence, you kill two birds with one stone and still leave enough space for all the sports and intramurals to have fun.
Also, by keeping the arena attached to the Klotsche Center, you keep the men’s basketball program attached to athletics. Were the arena to be built on the CSM land, the coaches would need to move their offices with the arena, where they would be separated from the people they need to work with every day. It doesn’t do any athletics administrators any good if they need to reach Chip MacKenzie and he’s a block and a half away.
Another reason for the Klotsche space is parking. While the CSM garage fits more cars than the Klotsche Center, having the arena on the Norris space makes it only a short walk from either north exit for the Union parking lot, which would add to that number. This is also an argument for those idiots who bring up that parking was hard when we played in the Klotsche Center before, yet forget that 700 spaces are now in the building that didn’t exist before.
There is another thing I want to bring up with the Klotsche Center space that will appease the neighbors. Okay, maybe that won’t actually happen…like the neighbors will be appeased by anything that brings thousands of sports fans to campus. The idea is this; face the arena towards the rest of campus. Direct all of the foot traffic into the arena’s entrance to the campus. When you’re approaching the current Klotsche Center, it’s coming from Downer Avenue, where it’s the neighborhood. Plant the main arena entrance on campus, and it will become a part of campus much like having the arena on the corner of Maryland and Hartford would do.
One more thing, and then I’m going to have to get going; the campus could really use a pedestrian street, as many campuses do. Once UWM takes control of the hospital, moves should be made to cut all through traffic on Hartford Avenue between Cramer and Downer. If that’s too much, then make it Maryland and Downer or the west library driveway and Downer. But by doing so, you can really create a space that didn’t exist before, because cars get in the way and people can’t use the space. By creating a pedestrian walkway, you create more of a campus feel. Just as you would by bringing men’s basketball on campus in the first place.