U of M Plans to Renovate Williams Arena; New Gophers Basketball Venue Unlikely

Photo: University of Minnesota

The Minnesota Gophers basketball team has played its home games in Williams Arena since 1928, nearly 100 years. Rumors surrounding the possibility of a new arena on campus have been growing louder recently, as various reports have surfaced saying the U of M is in the process of deciding between renovating The Barn or building something new.

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U of M Planning to Renovate Williams Arena

But in Thursday morning’s newspaper, Marcus Fuller (Star Tribune) got Mark Coyle on record to bring some light to the conversation. And according to the University of Minnesota Athletic Director, the likely decision will be renovations for Williams arena, rather than a new build.

“I get to travel to all these different arenas in the Big Ten,” Coyle said. “There’s no doubt there’s things we can do at Williams Arena to help enhance it, for not only our student-athletes but our spectators who come to the games.”

Coyle gave no timetable for the process but said talks have increased since last year within the athletic department about changes to the Barn

Star Tribune

Related: Never Tear Down The Barn… Ever.

What’s the plan for the renovation project? Downsize and update. The U of M has been keeping a very close eye on some of the college basketball arena projects across the country. The Barn currently seats 14,625 people during basketball games but their average attendance is half that.

Did someone say downsizing???

williams arena the barn university of minnesota gophers basketball
University of Minnesota

As technology advances and with less and less fans show up to sporting events in-person, it only makes sense to downsize Williams Arena’s seating capacity. The Gophers men’s basketball team is averaging just 7,422 fans per game, which ranks ahead of only Northwestern (5,151) who built a new arena (Welsch-Ryan) in 2018 with a seating capacity of 7,000 people

Reducing seating at the venue is being considered along with other potential modifications that could improve the venue for fans and players.

Building a basketball arena at another location on campus is open for discussion, but Coyle isn’t sure how strongly that would be considered.

Star Tribune

For Williams Arena, a full-scale renovation can be whatever the Athletic Department dreams up, especially if you are downsizing the seating capacity. Remember, The Barn was originally designed as a fieldhouse with two sides.

It housed the hockey rink, multiple basketball courts and an indoor track. It also served as the indoor practice facility for the U’s baseball team for a long time. It’s time for the University of Minnesota to PROPERLY invest in a Williams Arena renovation project, something that’s NEVER been done in the course of its nearly 100-year history.

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Time for University of Minnesota to properly invest in The Barn

While researching that piece about saving The Barn (written in 2018) I found that from 1927 to 2018, there was a grand total of under $30 million in construction costs spent on The Barn. That’s from it’s completion as the U of M Field House ($650,000) all the way until new floors and seats were installed.

They got another new floor in 2022, so stack a couple more million on top, just to tip the scales over $30 million. That’s nearly 100 years and $30 million spent. For comparison purposes, Huntington Bank Stadium cost over 10X that ($300,000,000) before one football games was played on its turf.

YearProjectCost
1927The “U of M Fieldhouse” is Erected$650,000
1948New Roof$210,000
1949Full Reno – Renamed “Williams Arena”$1,032,867
1992Full Reno – Locker Rooms, “Williams Arena Club”$15,000,000
199721 Luxury “Barn Lofts” Added$2,300,000
2013New Video Board + More$8,000,000
2018New Floor + Seats$2,300,000
2022New Floor$2,000,000
Total$31,303,867
——Building and Renovating TCF Bank Stadium$300,000,000+
Info via GopherSports.com, TheDailyGopher.com, GopherHole.com, and Wikipedia.com

Gophers basketball only has one home.

Years ago, I made my feelings on The Barn very clear. There are a lot of people who disagree with me but I would keep Williams Arena forever, if I were running the University of Minnesota. It is one of the only things we have with Gophers sports that is unique, compared to the rest of the country.

So I am 100% on board with a renovation project and I think reducing seating capacity is a great idea. Put $100,000,000 into a real renovation and perk Williams Arena up a little bit. Make it a venue that makes sense in 2023 and going forward. Keep the history, but make the building a viable basketball complex going forward.

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