Gophers explore renovations to Williams Arena or new basketball venue

With Williams Arena approaching 100 years old, the Gophers athletic department is beginning to explore options for the home of its men’s and women’s basketball programs.

The Gophers have contracted Populous, an international architectural design firm, to do a feasibility study on “possible renovation to Williams Arena (and Maturi) Pavilion or consider new construction,” according to documents obtained by the Pioneer Press.

Late last year, the Gophers started a process to gather facts and information via this consulting work in “identifying the pros/cons and primary estimates to provide guidance to (the athletic department) for next steps,” the documents said.

The Gophers want to set up their basketball programs for success over the next 100 years, and this small, initial step is expected to help chart possible paths forward. They seek a big-picture view of what might be possible within the structure of Williams Arena, which was built in 1928.

The goal of the feasibility study into “The Barn” will look at the building’s engineering, architecture and square-footage footprint to determine if renovating it is the best course of action.

Documents show Populous plans to provide perspective on 20 items inside of the arena, including: lofts/suites and other premium seating options, including loge boxes; club spaces for hosting donors and guests; enhanced court-side seating experiences; ADA accessible seating; entry for fans and concourses.

One primary challenge the Gophers see within the current arena is fans having to navigate tight concourses and limited access to bathrooms.

The study also will provide perspective on the competition floor — might the current raised floor become a thing of the past? — as well as home and visiting teams’ locker rooms and auxiliary locker rooms “to accommodate multi-team events.” It also lists “potential inclusion of volleyball, wrestling, gymnastics competitions in the basketball arena.”

Populous will provide this study on a “conceptual level” to inform the athletics department and the university on “whether or not to perform a more detailed assessment of the arena,” documents said. Populous will work with the contractor provided by the U, which is listed as Mortenson Construction, to share further cost estimates.

The Gophers anticipate recommendations from Populous within the next few months. The feasibility study findings will then inform the alternative option of building a new on-campus arena, which has not yet been broached within the athletic department, the Pioneer Press understands.

The entire process toward either renovation or new construction, including required fundraising, is not expected to be expedited.

Possible renovations to The Barn would be expected to shrink its current capacity, with more seats replacing benches, plus the addition of more premium spaces and ADA areas. Williams Arena currently seats 14,625, but it has almost never approached capacity during games in recent seasons.

Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena opened with a capacity of approximately 13,000 in 1953 and was renovated for $110 million to 7,000 seats in 2018. Baylor opened a new $212-million arena seating 7,000 in early January.

When Williams Arena first opened 96 years ago, it was known as the University of Minnesota Field House. During its first remodel in 1950, it was renamed Williams Arena after Henry Williams, the U’s football coach from 1900-21.

The Barn, according to the U’s media guide, had alterations done from 1991-93 with the addition of the Williams Arena club on the east end of the arena as well as a new locker room, training spaces and offices.

In 1997, the arena added the “barn lofts,” or second-deck premium boxes along both sidelines. In 2005, the arena added a team lounge area and other spaces for the basketball programs. In 2013, new video boards and scoreboards were added.

Populous has contributed work to many prominent sports venues in Minnesota, including Huntington Bank Stadium (2009), Allianz Field (2019), Target Field (2010), Xcel Energy Center (2000) and Amsoil Arena in Duluth (2010).

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