Inside Florida's planned upgrades to the O'Dome
The University of Florida's Stephen C. O'Connell Center is getting a major upgrade. The O'Dome, as its known in Gainesville, Florida, is undergoing a full gut renovation to the 10,000-seat home of basketball, volleyball and gymnastics.
"They are going after fan experience," Neil Davis, lead architect for Davis Architects, says. "This was really to both modernize and enhance the fan experience."
The O'Connell Center was a relic of arenas pas,t with retractable bleachers, no main concourse and an amenity level leaving plenty to be desired.
"I am most looking forward to the overall fan experience when the facility opens in December," Florida executive associate athletic director Chip Howard says.
Upgrades include a new entrance, a 360-degree concourse, premium seating options for fans (including a 570-seat mid-court club and a courtside club for 50), a 100% expansion of concessions, a 150% increase in restrooms, new gameday locker facilities, completely updated HVAC, electric, plumbing, sound and LED lighting and chair-back seating throughout.
The addition of about 13,000 square feet of space comes largely from the new grand main entrance. Davis said the box offices, concourse connections to upper levels and retail and concessions outlets will fill the space. "It will get a lot of traffic and be a very vital space," he says. "It will be full of activity and a place to hang out and people watch or be watched."
Inside the bowl, crews have gutted the seating to add in the clubs, VIP conveniences and a new seating configuration. While there was talk about moving the student section, Florida officials ultimately decided to keep them where they've been for decades, front and center on television broadcasts. "Students are always more fun and energetic to look at," Davis says.
Simply having a fully upgraded facility "will do a lot on its own," Davis says, but the updated arena—it already has a recently updated gymnastic side and gym space adjacent—will create more opportunities for athletics, concerts and academics. Just the immenseness of the new entrance, for example, turns the lobby into one of the largest indoor spaces on campus.
"It is a huge space and when someone walks in, they are going to be in awe," Davis says.
Tim Newcomb covers sports aesthetics—stadiums to sneakers—and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.