Oct. 30, 2012
By Sarah VanMetre
With the calendar flipping from October to November, it can only mean one thing: basketball season is upon us. One of the most common sights around Crisler Center for the past few years has been construction equipment and fences. Most of that will change this week when the men's and women's basketball teams host exhibition contests, giving fans their first chance to see the new Crisler Center.
The original plan for the $52 million Phase II renovation of Crisler Center was for the construction to take about 20 months. The majority of the work was just completed this week, taking approximately 10 total months.
"This was supposed to be a two-year project, but we knew we needed to get it done faster," associate athletic director Rob Rademacher said. "We looked at creative ways to compress the construction schedule so we would impact the fan experience less. We worked double shifts, worked six days a week and just found a way to get as much done as we could to open the facility for the start of basketball season."
This portion of the Crisler Center renovation project added approximately 63,000 gross square feet, allowing for new fan entrances, expanded and renovated concourses, new restrooms and concession areas, fan interactive areas, additional retail spaces and ticketing areas, as well as a private club space.
With the hastened construction schedule, however, fans will notice that not everything inside the facility is completed. The club, along with its attached concessions, will not be completed until Jan. 1. Digital content in the new digital touch screens may not be completed, along with some fixed graphics around the concourse and the KidZone. Some areas of the concourse will still be under construction, including portions of the northeast lobby.
"There would have been many more construction barriers if we had not gone this route," project manager Steve Donoghue said about the decision to speed up the construction process. "We have been able to get rid of most of the fencing outside the facility, freeing up about 125 parking spots that had been previously used by construction equipment.
"The only thing that our remaining construction is limiting the fans from is that they cannot use the club, and there are two concession areas that are not completed. Everything else, to the fan, will be completely usable."
Even though the whole project is not quite done, fans will still be blown away by the "new" Crisler Center and what it has to offer.
"This puts us at the top of any collegiate facility," Rademacher said. "It is one thing to see a rendering or drawing of a facility and think it is going to be awesome. It is another thing to actually see it. When our fans come in and see it for the first time, I think their reaction is going to be 'wow.' That is the reaction we were hoping for."
Perhaps the most noticeable and amazing change is the new grand entrance, located on the northeast corner of the complex. A two-story water feature adorns the lobby, along with an escalator to take fans up to the concourse level. The lobby provides space for the fans to come inside, purchase or pick up tickets, away from the elements of a Michigan winter.
The Maize Rage, Michigan's student section, will enter through a new gate on the northwest corner, adjacent to the Mortenson Plaza. The entrance, true to its name, is completely maize from floor to ceiling.
As fans make their way up to the concourse, the changes will continue to be evident. The concourse was widened, allowing for an easier traffic flow of fans before, during and after games. Natural light is now allowed into the facility by windows located throughout the concourse. New concession stands and restrooms will allow for less congestion in the concourse, once again helping traffic flow.
Featured throughout the concourse floor are the lyrics to Michigan's iconic fight song, "The Victors."
Gone are the showcases that represented all of Michigan's 29 varsity sports, as they have been replaced by digital touch screen displays and 'Super Graphics.' These will tell the story of each of sport, allowing fans the opportunity to learn more about what Michigan Athletics is all about.
"It is a tribute to Michigan Athletics throughout, not just basketball," Donoghue said. "That is apparent from day one. This is not just a basketball venue; this is where we can showcase the rich history and tradition of all Michigan sports."
Two M-Den locations, one in the southwest corner and one in the new lobby in the northeast corner, will provide fans the opportunity to purchase official Michigan apparel on game days. The M-Den in the southwest corner has been open during football games this season.
A rooftop plaza was added on top of the William Davidson Player Development Center, providing a place for tailgating during U-M football games. Michigan's Hall of Honor recipients will also be honored in Crisler, even though that part of the project will not be completed until the New Year.
A KidZone, located on the southeast side of the building, will also be completed on Jan. 1. Kids will be able to see how they size up to current Wolverines, in addition to be able to play games in the area.
Phase I of the Crisler Center project, which was completed in time for last season, primarily addressed infrastructure needs such as repair of the roof, electrical, plumbing and air handling systems. It included the complete renovation of Crisler Center's interior bowl, which included new HD scoreboards, new seating for the entire arena, including club seating, expanded seating for people with disabilities, the addition of hand rails and the construction of loge box seating, as well as the newly added Wolverine Den.
Construction began at Crisler Center in May 2010, starting with the building of the William Davidson Player Development Center. The 55,000-square-foot facility gives Michigan men's and women's basketball teams a place to call home, featuring coaches' offices, film rooms, locker rooms, training room, two practice floors, player lounges, equipment room, theaters, hydrotherapy pools and weight room.
"One of our guiding principles is that 'We Provide WOW Experiences for our Student-Athletes, Fans and Team Members," Rademacher said. "I think we have accomplished that in this project and fans should come out this year to experience it. You have to see the transformation for yourself to believe it."