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Time to renovate the Barn? Gophers studying options at Williams Arena

Williams Arena has a historic charm that stands alone in the Big Ten, but the University of Minnesota is looking into possible renovations for the 96-year-old home of Gophers basketball.

Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle told the Star Tribune recently that as far as future projects go, "the next logical thing for us to look at is Williams Arena."

"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, which was built in 1928.

The Gophers signed a contract in October with Populous, a Kansas City-based architectural firm, to explore renovation for Williams Arena/Maturi Pavilion or the construction of a new facility, according to the contract sent to the Star Tribune.

Populous helped with the design process for the Gophers' football home at Huntington Bank Stadium (formerly TCF Bank Stadium) that opened in 2009.

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Williams Arena's capacity is 14,625 for basketball games. Reducing seating at the venue is being considered along with other potential modifications that could improve the venue for fans and players.

After the vacated Final Four run in 1997, the U added 21 luxury lofts at the top of the second level that summer. Other than enhancing the players' locker room and lounge areas below within the past two decades, the Barn got a new video board in 2013 and basketball court in 2009, 2018 and 2022.

Building a basketball arena at another location on campus is open for discussion, but Coyle isn't sure how strongly that would be considered. The goal is to improve the experience for fans, especially with attendance dropping to an announced average of 7,422 in men's hoops, the lowest since 1970-71.

Only Northwestern has a lower average attendance (5,151) in men's basketball than the Gophers in the Big Ten this season, but Welsh-Ryan Arena capacity is 7,039. The Wildcats also completed their $110 million renovation of the arena in 2018.

"We've had initial conversations in terms of what we want to do with Williams Arena," Coyle said. "What would it look like moving forward? Before you make a final decision, you have to understand what the cost is for it. Obviously, it's going to require significant fundraising."