New basketball arena could be in works for Buccaneers

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- Memorial Center isn't exactly considered one of the best places in the Southern Conference to watch a basketball game.
   East Tennessee State's administration is looking to possibly fix that problem.
   Long-range plans could include building a new basketball arena at ETSU. The site that this would be built on is the parking lot of the old Thomasville plant near campus.
   "We've made an offer to purchase nine acres east of Tennessee Street," ETSU vice president of administration Wayne Andrews said. "We started thinking that we might use the site as a planning opportunity, and one of the things we considered using the site for was a new basketball arena."
   Details are still very sketchy, and the purchase of the property still has to be approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents.
   "We're still very much on the front end," Andrews said. "In the long term we want to use this property to improve our athletic facilities, including having a new basketball arena. We're going to plan first and see where that takes us."
   Memorial Center, or what is commonly called the Mini-Dome, can hold around 13,000 for basketball. Crowds like those haven't been seen since the days of Keith "Mister" Jennings, Greg Dennis and Calvin Talford.
   People have complained for years about the dome, and how hard it is to see a game in there.
   ETSU's administration is looking to have an arena that seats between 5,000 and 6,000 fans. But right now that's a very rough estimate.
   "That will be determined in planning," Andrews said.
   Taxpayer money will not be used for the project, as the state of Tennessee prohibits it.
   Student fees may be used, but the school is most likely going to try private fundraising to get the money needed.
   "We're going to look at the feasibility of private fundraising," Andrews said. "That's way down the road, and the use of student fees certainly wouldn't be the first option."
   If you're expecting a new basketball arena overnight, then you better think again.
   Andrews said it should be awhile.
   "The reality is we'll start planning once we get approval," Andrews said. "It will take three or four years before the construction. We're looking at probably five or six years before it's completed."