Out with the Old: Houston opens the Fertitta Center

Photos Courtesy of Houston Athletics

Compared to the $400 million his company sunk into the glitzy Post Oak Hotel in Houston’s Galleria area, Landry’s magnate Tilman Fertitta is getting a relative bargain for his $20 million investment in the University of Houston’s revamped basketball arena.

Opened in 1969 as Hofheinz Pavilion, UH’s arena will be rechristened this fall as the Fertitta Center, the latest addition in a steady upgrade trend for Division I basketball arenas across a state that more frequently draws attention for its elaborate football palaces.

Granted, the ongoing basketball building boom still lags behind its football counterpart. The Hofheinz/Fertitta redesign, at $60 million, costs less than half the five-year-old TDECU Stadium on the opposite side of Holman Street on the UH campus.

But its significance, at a time when college athletic departments are searching for revenue, is considerable. Chris Pezman, who returned to his alma mater earlier this year as athletic director, expects the new building to contribute at least a million dollars annually.

UH’s project, an $8 million upgrade under way at North Texas’ “Super Pit” Arena and the scheduled completion of a multi-year $54 million upgrade to Texas State’s Strahan Coliseum are the latest redesigns and upgrades of existing buildings.

The Super Pit project includes improvements to concourses, restrooms and concession areas. The Texas State project includes the removal of a wall to make the arena a complete bowl, adding 2,300 seats to the arena and boosting capacity at the University Events Center by 81,000 square feet.

SMU’s Moody Coliseum, which witnessed Jim Krebs’ heroics in the 1950s and, during a 1980s high school all-star game, a young phenom named Shaquille O’Neal, was revamped for $40 million in 2013, downsized from 9,000 to 7,000 seats just in time to enjoy capacity crowds for the rebirth of Mustangs basketball.

TCU preceded Houston in funding major football and basketball upgrades within a decade. Three years after the $162 million revamp of Amon Carter Stadium in 2012, the school spent $72 million to transform Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, built in 1961, into Schollmaier Arena.

While arena upgrades are common among the Football Bowl Subdivision schools, from complete revamps at Houston and TCU to more subtle upgrades at Texas Tech’s United Supermarkets Arena (2016) and UTEP’s Don Haskins Center (2012), the state’s newest Division I arena built from scratch is College Park Center at Texas-Arlington, which opened in 2012.

College Park Center replaced Texas Hall, which doubled as a concert and entertainment venue, complete with theater seating on one side of the court/stage.

“If the place was burning down, I’d call the fire department, but I wouldn’t help put it out,” former Texas-Arlington coach Scott Cross told the late ESPN writer Richard Durrett during the team’s final season at Texas Hall.

The oldest Division I arena in Texas is Houston Baptist’s Sharp Gym, which was built in 1963 and has not been significantly upgraded.

Elsewhere, Texas-San Antonio officials began discussions as long ago as 2013 on a replacement for the school’s Convocation Center, and Incarnate Word officials have discussed plans for a new arena.

In Corpus Christi, City Council members last year began researching a proposed $166 million overhaul of the American Bank Center convention complex that would include a 22,000-square foot addition to the city-owned arena used by Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

And in Austin, while the University of Texas last year spent $4.5 million on scoreboard, court and practice court facilities, the next big project looming on the college basketball front is a new on-campus arena to replace the Erwin Center, which is scheduled to be demolished to make way for the university’s new medical school.

No date has been set for demolition, construction or completion. But by the time Texas gets done, it probably will be time for another building cycle to begin elsewhere.

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