Advertisement

Williams Arena renovations can't be done on the cheap, Breuer says

Back when Randy Breuer starred for the Gophers on the 1982 Big Ten basketball championship team, he felt Williams Arena's raised floor added an extra edge.

"It helped guys like me jump a little higher," the 7-3 former All-Big Ten center joked.

With the Gophers exploring ways to renovate the Barn, Breuer hopes they can keep some of what made his former court different, but he's not opposed to changes. He joined more than 40 former players at the Gophers' alumni day Saturday against Northwestern.

"If they're going to do anything, you have to make sure to do it right," Breuer said. "Don't do it the cheap way, which they have done in the past. The question is: Are they going to be able to get enough money to do that?"

Two weeks ago, Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle said the department is exploring what to do with Williams Arena, which opened in 1928. Back in October, the Gophers signed a contract with Populous, a Kansas City-based architectural firm, to explore renovation for Williams Arena/Maturi Pavilion or the construction of a new arena.

The Barn's raised floor has been one important talking point. It has a unique place in college basketball but creates challenges when it comes to bidding to host such events as the NCAA volleyball tournament.

Former Gophers player and longtime booster Paul Presthus, who played with legends Archie Clark and Lou Hudson in the 1960s, isn't opposed to eliminating the raised court or starting from scratch with a new building.

"I have pleasant memories of playing in the Barn, but that was 70 years ago," Presthus said. "Kids nowadays want the latest and greatest thing. I think they should build something new."

Gophers coach Ben Johnson acknowledged to the Star Tribune that discussions are taking place within the athletic department about whether a redesigned arena will have an elevated floor.

"I think [the raised floor is] something that we talk about," Johnson said. "I'm not the decision maker. But I would say that it gives us something unique. In recruiting, you're always looking for something to sell. What can separate you? What makes a visit memorable? That's something that's different than any other program in the country."

The Populous contract mentioned "competition floor" and "potential inclusion of volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics competitions in the basketball arena" as part of the feasibility study. The Gophers are considering renovations that would improve the fan and player experience but also generate more revenue through "special events," according to the document.

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

Gophers boosters club president Jim Cormier, who hosted a big crowd Saturday morning for alumni day at the Golden Dunkers event, said his members have heard about possible arena renovations for months, including maybe no raised floor.

"They've had this in the drawer for a while," Cormier said. "The building itself is almost 100 years old. You could still have a raised court. Many of the people I've talked to, the older booster club members and fans, say if they saved the raised court that's great."

Payne returns

Gophers sophomore big man Pharrel Payne was back in the starting lineup Saturday after missing last weekend's win at Penn State with a back injury.

Payne, who averaged 9.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, last played with nine points and seven rebounds in a 61-59 loss Jan. 23 vs. Wisconsin at home.