May 17, 2013 in Sports

Spear spearheading effort to build UI events center

By The Spokesman-Review
 

MOSCOW, Idaho – In the last six months, Rob Spear has hired a new football coach, found a conference home for the Idaho football program and, just this week, won approval for a 30-foot-wide, 50-foot-tall video board in the Kibbie Dome.

Next, he’s prepared to tackle what he calls his dream construction project as UI athletic director: a proposed 6,000-seat events center just north of the Dome.

Idaho president Duane Nellis, soon to depart for the same post at Texas Tech, put together a committee to explore the feasibility of the new center – something the university badly needs, Spear said. And the Vandals’ A.D. hopes it becomes a priority for interim president Don Burnett.

“I have a lot of confidence in Don Burnett as the interim president,” said Spear, in his 10th year as head of the UI athletic department. “I think Don wants to move things forward, and this is one of the things that’s on the table.”

While UI is still in the information-gathering stage, the events center would be designed to host Vandals’ basketball and volleyball games (and potentially track meets), giving the football team year-round access to the field in the Dome. As it stands now, the football turf is removed to accommodate basketball in the makeshift Cowan Spectrum.

Other non-athletic events, such as the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, are also centered in the cavernous Dome. But Spear said the events center would be an ideal spot for convocations, concerts and trade shows if the plan comes to fruition.

“If you look at all the original land-grant institutions in the country,” he said, “it would be safe to say we’re the only one that doesn’t have a stand-alone events center like that.”

The $1.15 million video board, which the State Board of Education approved Wednesday, is also part of Spear’s plan to make yearly improvements to the Vandals’ athletic facilities. In the nearly 40-year-old Kibbie Dome alone, UI has put in translucent end walls, upgraded locker rooms, opened a club room (surrounded by suites and premium seats) and built a new press box – all in the last four years.

The video board will go on the east wall and be ready for the Sept. 14 home football opener against Northern Illinois. The athletic department’s portion of the total cost, $787,321, will be paid for with sponsorship money and private funds.

The main sponsor is the Idaho Potato Commission, which will have a large Famous Idaho Potatoes banner across the top of the board. Blue Cross of Idaho and Commercial Tire have also paid for spots, while two of the five advertising panels are still for sale.

“I’m very confident we’ll sell (the) two panels,” said Spear, noting that sponsors are paying for the advertising rights over five years but will be able to keep their name on the board for 10 years.

The video board is the last step in Spear’s goal to create “one of the best game-day environments in the country” on Saturdays during football season.

With an events center, Idaho would also significantly enhance the experience at basketball games. Which is part of the reason why Spear is making the push to build a new arena a more pressing concern than adding seats to the 16,000-seat Dome, the smallest current Football Bowl Subdivision stadium.

“We do have some plans and some schematics of how we could expand the Kibbie Dome,” he said. “But really, our No. 1 priority is to build an events center.”

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