UAA gets boost for new sports facility

Rosemary Shinohara

The $80 million included in a state Senate bond proposal for a University of Alaska Anchorage sports arena would build a much-needed facility, according to UAA boosters.

The existing Wells Fargo Sports Complex at UAA opened in 1978 when there were no college athletics or physical education academic programs, say the supporters of a new arena. They say the university, with 11 Division 1 and Division 2 athletic teams, has long outgrown the old complex.

But the University of Alaska Board of Regents is in less of a hurry with the project: The regents took the sports arena off the university's immediate priority list at their November-December meeting and still have questions about it, University of Alaska public affairs director Kate Ripley said Monday.

The regents haven't accepted a design, settled on the size of it, nor agreed to a site, said Ripley. For one thing, the regents want to know how much it would cost to refurbish the Wells Fargo Sports Complex, Ripley said.

"The board hasn't signed off on anything yet," she said.

But at the same time, she said, "It's exciting that there are university projects in there (in the bond package). It's good news."

The bond package has $80 million for the UAA sports arena, money for a $108.6 million life sciences building on the Fairbanks campus, and $23.5 million for an arts and learning center at the Mat-Su campus.

The regents, at their Nov. 30-Dec. 1 meeting, wanted to send a message to the Legislature that a $108 million life sciences building at the Fairbanks campus is their immediate priority, not the UAA sports arena.

So the life sciences building is the only building they approved as a legislative funding request. The rest of the university's capital request is for maintenance needs.

In prior years, though, the sports arena for Anchorage did make the university's capital projects list. Two years ago, the university asked for $1 million in planning money. It got $15 million.

Last year, the university's request included funding for a proposed $80 million arena to be constructed near the corner of Elmore Road and Providence Drive. The building at that time was proposed to be 130,000 square feet, with seating for about 3,500. There would be a running track, a fitness center, locker rooms, classrooms, a gymnastics facility, and a two-court auxiliary gym.

And last June, the regents gave the go-ahead for a detailed design not to exceed $8 million. That design is in progress.

But at the November-December meeting, the regents created a working group to take another look at the project, said Ripley.

"They said, 'We can't just build a new arena and have the Wells Fargo complex left in current conditions,' " she said.

The working group may report back at the June regents meeting in Anchorage, she said.

Meantime, the municipality of Anchorage, including the mayor and Anchorage Assembly, included completing the UAA sports arena on its legislative priority list.

And a group of independent boosters has been lobbying legislators, including trips to Juneau.

They include Steve Nerland, chairman of the Great Alaska Shootout basketball tournament back in the 1980s, and a Seawolf volunteer ever since; Jim O'Toole, women's basketball booster club president; and Tom Packer, former president of the men's basketball booster club.

Nerland said arena boosters first got together when former Gov. Sarah Palin vetoed $1 million in planning for the arena.

They testified in Juneau and at local hearings and asked for a larger amount to get the project rolling. The Legislature approved $15 million.

The group mobilized again after the regents decided not to include the new sports arena in this year's legislative requests.

O'Toole said he's travelled around to other venues where UAA has played, such as Western Oregon University and St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas.

"All of these schools have fantastic athletic facilities, and none of them have near the student body UAA has," said O'Toole.

Packer said he'd rather the Legislature fund the sports center outright than include money for it in a bigger bond package that voters will decide on

"I think the people of America are becoming shell-shocked with debt. Bonds may have a difficult time passing this fall. But if that's the only shot we have, then I'm 100 percent in favor."

Find Rosemary Shinohara online at or call her at 257-4340.