Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in The Eagle on Nov. 1, 2000.
An aging Levitt Arena will receive a $19.5 million renovation and expansion over the next three years, keeping Wichita State University basketball fans in their favorite arena but giving it a needed face lift.
WSU athletic director Jim Schaus announced the project Tuesday. The spark came in a $6 million donation by Koch Industries, the largest single gift by the company and the largest single gift received by the university.
In announcing the fund-raising campaign, Schaus said WSU has raised $12.5 million for the project, which is expected to be completed in August 2003.
Koch Arena, as it will be called in 2003, will feature a new exterior with a brick, glass and metal design. The entire project will add nearly 100,000 square feet of space, including a wider concourse, and will expand the facility east toward Cessna Stadium.
“I thought it ought to be named Koch Industries (Arena),” said Charles Koch, chairman and chief executive of the company. “Our board thought it ought to be personalized. So they tricked me into it.”
Koch Industries wasn’t the only major donor.
Tom and Myra Devlin gave $2.75 million to the project, Bob and Maura Geist gave $2.75 million, and Barry and Paula Downing gave $1 million. The Levitt Athletic Complex will include Koch Arena, Devlin Court, Geist Student Services Building and the Downing Academic Learning Center.
Koch said he was persuaded to spearhead the project because of his trust in Schaus and WSU president Don Beggs to return Shocker basketball to national prominence.
“We believe they’re really going to make it happen,” Koch said. “Everything they said they’d do, they’ve done.
“Everything’s a bet. Nobody can predict the future. But that’s what we based it on. That and how critical basketball is to Wichita State and how critical Wichita State is to Wichita.”
Plans to renovate Levitt Arena have been discussed for years.
“But they never materialized because of a lack of funds,” Beggs said. “This time, we’re going to do it the Shocker way.”
The project will get no state funding, so Schaus will try to raise money through other means. He said naming opportunities for the locker rooms and the planned Champions Dinner Club and Lounge will be depended on heavily for fund raising.
Revenue bonds, another funding option, were used to help fund the Eck Stadium renovation.
Raising student fees and ticket prices are other options, Schaus said.
Since 1969, the arena has been named for late civic leader Henry Levitt. The Levitt name will be used with the entire athletic complex near 21st and Hillside, including the basketball arena, football stadium and administrative building.
The fund-raising campaign, announced Tuesday, is called “Roundhouse Renaissance.” HOK Sports Facilities Group of Kansas City, Mo., which has built several major-league stadiums, drew the conceptual plans for the project.
The new facility will include all the athletic department offices, including offices for coaches, marketing and sports information.
The project’s timeline, which Schaus called conservative, will start with fund raising through February. Architects are expected to be hired in April, and a general contractor should be hired in March 2002. Construction is scheduled to begin in March 2002, and the team would move into the arena in August 2003.
In the meantime, the Shockers would probably have to play at the Kansas Coliseum for at least part of the 2002-03 season. “That would be the logical alternative,” Schaus said.
A new playing floor and air conditioning are included in the arena project. The arena will seat approximately 10,000, down from the current 10,432 because of added handicapped seating.
“Our feeling was that we needed a 10,000-seat arena,” Schaus said. “That was necessary. We’d love to be able to fill this arena up and sell it out on a regular basis. A 14,000- or 15,000-seat arena was cost prohibitive. There’ll be plenty of seats, and this will definitely meet our needs.”
Built in 1955, Levitt Arena is considered a dinosaur. There are no rest rooms on the concourse level, and the majority of the features that once made it state of the art are outdated.
Schaus said remodeling will result in wider rows with roomier seats and more leg room, and the handicapped seating will quadruple. There will be fewer bench seats and more with chairbacks. Front-row seats will be slightly closer to the court.
“We want to keep that intimate feeling,” Schaus said.
The north tunnel will be eliminated, and two tunnels will be built in the northeast and southeast sections of the arena, connecting the arena to the locker rooms.
Included in the project is a plan to resurface the track in Cessna Stadium and add an eighth lane. New locker rooms also will be built for the men’s and women’s track and field teams.
There are some extra options that would take the price tag up to $25 million, including a weight room and a practice facility with two basketball courts.
“We’d like to do that all at once,” Schaus said. “So we’re trying to reach that $24 (million) to $25 million range.”