Image Credit: Tim Casey/UAA
The Florida Gators will officially open the renovated Stephen C. O’Connell Center on Wednesday night with the men’s basketball team hosting Arkansas-Little Rock at 7 p.m. ET live on SEC Network.
You will undoubtedly see some parts of the new arena live on television, but when you consider all that went into the project and the toll it took on Florida’s athletic program, there really is more to it than just being a new structure with a now-sponsored name.
Here are 10 things you need to know about the new O’Dome (All photos via the University Athletic Association. Head over to No. 9 for more.)
1. The renovation was not cheap, and the process was not swift: In total, it cost Florida $64.5 million to remodel the O’Dome, which exceeded the original budget laid out years ago and was nearly $5 million more than the Gators planned to spend when retooling their expectations. Construction was also delayed an entire year due to an “aggressive schedule, escalating costs associated with the rehabilitation project and a change in the construction management team,” former athletic director Jeremy Foley explained at the time of the delay. That also made scheduling even more difficult for the basketball team, which had already begun setting and rearranging games for the 2015-16 season. The initial projected cost was $45 million, meaning Florida spent nearly $20 million more than initially earmarked figure for the 36-year-old facility.
2. There’s a new name … if you choose to use it: Before we get into the actual renovations themselves, let’s note that Florida has finally sold the naming rights to the O’Dome, which it hopes will be referred to as the Exactech Arena as part of a 10-year, $5.9 million deal (with a $3.5 million extension option). And before you ask, yes, this deal was approved by Cindy O’Connell, the O’Connell Center trustee whose husband Stephen, a former Florida school president, had the facility named after him. Between nicknames like the O’Dome and “House of Horrors,” let’s just say Exactech Arena will have a difficult time sticking — even though it will be prominent on the court.
3. One name is still missing: Though Foley hinted in the past that there may be some additional surprises in the works, it appears as if the O’Dome will go live without the attachment of one very prominent name, former Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan. Not only will Donovan not be in attendance as he is in the middle of his NBA season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, there has been no mention of a court naming, which Florida fans almost universally want to feature “Billy D,” or anything else special (a statue or mural, perhaps) featuring the man perhaps most responsible for putting Gators basketball in a place where such an arena is not only deserved but necessary for the future of the program.
4. Changes are not just external but internal, too: In addition to the facelifts and visual enhancements, Florida reworked the mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems throughout the nearly four-decade-old facility. This is important as it will allow the Gators greater flexibility for future renovations and ensure the arena will have a complete second life as opposed to a short-lived one.
5. There’s a lot of blue, and the court will look different: Gone is the orange from the free throw line to the top of the key. Gone are the orange and blue half circles under the hoop (they are now blue and white). Gone is the plain-wood border, which has been replaced with an all-blue border with “Exactech Arena” behind the baskets and “Stephen C. O’Connell Center” on the side facing the camera — both in big white letters. In fact, outside of the words “Florida” and “Gators” and the orange part of the logo, one of Florida’s primary colors is barely used on the court, which presents a much sharper look. It is a bit more present in the inner bowl of the arena as orange is used on walls to separate sections, which looks nice in contrast with the blue seats. Also, the floor is no longer the one from the 2006 Final Four. It is brand new hardwood as the old one had to be replaced after years of refinishing. OnlyGators.com has inquired into the status of that Final Four hardwood.
6. Watching on television will be better … but not perfect: The arena’s primary camera platform has been moved “slightly lower,” which should produce better angles for fans at home, though it’s not known how drastic the difference will be. A person with knowledge of the O’Dome renovation told OnlyGators.com that the adjusted platform will result in a better angle for ESPN and CBS. Networks will now have the option of utilizing four additional platforms to use for big games (up from two previously). One of those new camera positions is located across from the Rowdy Reptiles for the purpose of reaction shots. This, of course, means that the main camera platform — or the student seating — was not flipped to the other side of the O’Dome as has long been a request of Gators fans, which hoped to have games showcase the Rowdy Reptiles and not scorekeepers and alumni. “Try as we did to flip the camera location to showcase our Rowdy Reptiles, it was a seven-figure decision and became cost-prohibitive, so it will remain on the same side,” associated athletic director Mike Hill explained to OnlyGators.com back in February.
One additional difference for at-home watchers will be the lighting, which will now shine bright on the court with the fans darkened, similar to how Madison Square Garden lights and broadcasts games.
7. The seats have changed and there’s fewer of them: Top-tier seating options for boosters are courtside seats (located below the students on either side of the media) that also receive access to an exclusive courtside club where the visitors locker room used to be located. Other seating choices include club seats (located across the court from students) and loge seats (just above those club seats in the lower level). There was a 1,000-seat reduction across the arena — due in large part to the new chair-back seats — that affects both regular admittance and the lower level student section, though numbers will remain “pretty stable” for students all things considered. The Rowdy Reptiles retained their end-line to end-line side-court elevated seating (though not as high as it used to be) and their spaces in the upper level. Florida’s band also remains in its previous location.
8. There’s a center-hung scoreboard: Not only that, there are four additional screens at the corners to make watching the game — and checking out replays, marketing announcements, etc. — easier for fans in attendance. No longer are you forced to stretch your head to watch a screen shoved atop a tunnel or look at stats updated like a high school gym. The O’Dome is now completely digital with new graphics and bright screens wherever the eye can see — including right in the middle of the court. The center-hung scoreboard also includes notes about the team’s national titles and Final Fours and features a big, bold “UF” logo at the bottom.
9. The players will be happier: Not only has the arena changed, the locker rooms have, too. Take a look at the new digs for Florida men’s basketball along with more pictures of the updated O’Connell Center over at Florida’s website.
10. The concourse is fresh, too: Looking at a new arena from the outside or while sitting in the bowl are nice, but a lot of fans spend a good amount of time going to and from concession stands and the bathroom. Good news because all of those have been updated, too. There are new structures throughout the concourse — including a huge alligator look at you as you walk in — a completely redone floor (with massive Gator head logo), new concessions options and tons of pictures on the wall featuring some of the best moments in O’Dome history.