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University of Idaho gets green light for new arena

UPDATED: Fri., March 15, 2019

Architect’s rendering of the Idaho Central Credit Union Arena at the University of Idaho in Moscow. (Courtesy Idaho Athletics)
Architect’s rendering of the Idaho Central Credit Union Arena at the University of Idaho in Moscow. (Courtesy Idaho Athletics)
By Justyna Tomtas Lewiston Tribune

LEWISTON – The Idaho State Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to allow the University of Idaho to move forward with plans to construct a new basketball arena on the Moscow, Idaho, campus – as long as the school’s new president agrees to the project, once that person is named.

The contingency was put in place so the new president of UI, who is expected to be named by April, knows exactly what he or she is dealing with.

“We’re sensitive to the timing of the transition of a new president upon which falls the burden of additional fundraising, communication and all these moving parts that would descend onto someone just as they are taking on new things,” board President Debbie Critchfield said.

The move isn’t expected to delay the project. Groundbreaking is set to occur this spring, while construction is anticipated to be completed in 2021.

The Idaho Central Credit Union Arena, which will have a 4,200-person capacity, will be housed next to the ASUI Kibbie Activity Center, commonly known as the Kibbie Dome.

Along with a new performance court and seating, the 62,000-square-foot arena will include a practice court, offices, locker rooms, conference facilities and concessions spaces.

Pete Isakson, UI’s interim athletic director, said the arena will be a game-changer for Vandals basketball, as well as a benefit to student-athletes and UI’s athletics program as a whole.

“The state-of-the-art arena will provide a teaching facility and the best game atmosphere in the Big Sky, while also acting as a recruiting showpiece,” Isakson said in a news release. “An arena with a practice court will provide attractive and versatile competition space and provide first-class practice facilities that we’ve needed for a long time.”

As part of the agreement to move forward with the bidding and construction phases of the $46 million project, the board allowed UI to issue bonds or use $29 million of reserve funds to cover initial construction costs.

Either move will result in a negative mark to UI’s credit or issuance rating, Vice President for Finance and Administration Brian Foisey said.

“I feel comfortable saying that’s the guaranteed outcome if we move forward with this project under either financing option,” Foisey told the board.

He added that he didn’t foresee that as a “devastating outcome,” but wanted to keep the board informed.

UI has $25 million in gifts, pledges and sponsorships identified. Of that amount, $16 million in cash has been collected.

The university also plans to double its student facility fee from $30 to $60 a year, which, if approved by the board, would bring in an additional $18 million over 35 years.

The university is still short $3 million of the total project cost, but Foisey said donors may still come forward to cover that cost. If not, he said UI will cover the shortfall.

UI President Chuck Staben said the arena will benefit much more than just basketball.

“This unique facility represents an essential addition to our residential campus, offering a gathering place for students, athletes, faculty, staff, alumni and friends for generations to come,” Staben said. “We are more energized than ever about this project.”

Plans to create an arena of this kind date back to the mid-1950s.

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