Folks, we hate to say it, but our beloved Kaplan Arena is getting old, quite old, and it’s starting to show. But perhaps worst of all, Kaplan’s antiquity strains a William & Mary Athletics program that, as we learned in the recently released W&M Athletics’ recently released Strategic Review, is already stretched quite thin.
Now let’s take a quick trip down memory lane and remind everyone Kaplan’s history.
- Opened: December 5, 1971
- Construction Cost: $5.3 million ($34.2 million in 2018 dollars)
- Capacity: 11,300
Nearly 5 decades later, just about every single W&M athletics team is using the facility in one way or another, whether it be through practices, games, using the weight room, and more. For example, volleyball competes with basketball (both basketball teams) for practice time, and many basketball players are relegated to the Rec Center to practice on courts that utilize high school three point lines. No, this is not a model for success.
Recently, W&M Athletics Director Samantha Huge sent out an email to address the matter head-on:
“Through our strategic planning process we have begun to address several areas to elevate William & Mary Athletics as a whole. As part of this endeavor, we will send a strong signal of the value and commitment that the university places on Athletics.
With that in mind, and in light of a recent facility assessment, we have concluded that renovating Kaplan Arena into a state-of-the-art home for the entire Department of Athletics must be a top priority. Kaplan Arena, through its student-athlete support functions, touches each and every athlete and coach at William & Mary and serves as the heartbeat of our Athletics program.
Thank you for your partnership over the years — we are excited about all of the opportunities that will come as we boldly pursue excellence in everything we do.”
As our tweet above signifies, if we are to take Huge literally, she’s saying that Kaplan Arena will not be entirely knocked down, but will instead be given a major facelift. How many of you remember W&M Athletics’ 10-Year Plan, which was released just over 4 years ago now? This is what that report had to say about Kaplan Arena:
- “William & Mary Hall is more than 40 years old and showing its age. Opened in 1971, it is home to most of Tribe Athletics – team locker rooms, coaching offices, and support services – and is the athletic department’s operational base.”
- “The next incarnation of William & Mary Hall is of strategic importance to the university and region. In reaction to the 2014 update to William & Mary’s master plan, the student body president noted the need for an appealing 3,000-seat venue on campus, which is acknowledged to be a regional need in the City of Williamsburg and the Historic Triangle.”
- “The Committee does not have the architectural, engineering, or campus planning expertise to determine whether replacement, as occurred via the John Paul Jones Arena at the University of Virginia…or a comprehensive renovation, as occurred in the Robins Center at the University of Richmond (opened 1972, renovated in 2013 for $17 million), is the best solution for William & Mary.”
- “A new or made-like-new William & Mary Hall would be transformative for Tribe Athletics, the university, and the Historic Triangle region.”
(Estimated Cost: $60 – $75 million for new construction, $22 – $28 million for renovation)
Now that it appears that W&M has decided to go the renovation route, what can we expect? Well, look no further than our rivals to the north, and a school that was explicitly mentioned in the 10-Year Plan above: Richmond’s Robins Center.
The Robins Center provides a compelling use case for what W&M fans can and should expect out of a major facelift for Kaplan Arena. The $17 million Robins Center renovation was focused on three major components: #1 bringing fans closer to the floor, #2 adding hospitality boxes at each corner of the arena, and #3 adding four 32-by-15-foot video screens throughout the arena.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? In case you’re interested, renovations were paid for by both fundraising and general university funds. And while the “new” stadium’s capacity was reduced to ~7,000 from 9,000, the Spiders only drew an average of about 6,000 fans the season before the renovation began — meaning downsizing made total sense.
And it might make sense for the Tribe too. Just last season, W&M averaged 3,470 fans across 14 home games, in what turned out to be an average season for the team. Even at one of the program’s peaks, in Marcus Thornton‘s ’14-’15 senior season, W&M averaged even less — just 2,913 fans per game. Should we really have an 11,000 seat stadium?
Read Richmond’s hyped-up description of their renovation:
“The renovations created a more intimate game day atmosphere and provided enhanced amenities for basketball fans. The renovations to the main arena of the Robins Center included:
- a new state-of-the-art LED lighting
- midnight blue painted ceiling
- four 15 feet by 32 feet video boards
- refurbished seats
- new premium seating options
- new terrace hospitality areas
- a refinished/newly painted court
- and renovated restrooms
The Robins Center also added a new center hung LED ribbon board and 48 feet of courtside LED displays on the baseline nearest the home team bench, to complement the already-existing LED displays at the scorer’s table and at the base of the four corner vomitories. The superbly maintained sports complex houses the University’s athletic squads and serves as the showplace for University of Richmond basketball. The men’s and women’s locker rooms and lounges were modernized and upgraded with state-of-the art amenities.”
Sounds even better now, doesn’t it? If you’re not picking up what we’re throwing down yet, then let the pictures speak for themselves (bonus: imagine them dripping in Green and Gold, and they’ll look even better).
So with renovations seemingly in the Tribe’s future — get ready for some exciting announcements, which will hopefully come sooner rather than later! And boy, do those suites look good.
LET’S GO TRIBE.