University officials looking to upgrade Super Pit

University officials looking to upgrade Super Pit

University officials looking to upgrade Super Pit
February 19
00:14 2015

Scott Sidway / Staff Writer

Sandwiched between a construction-filled Highland Street and North Texas Boulevard, the Super Pit has served as the home for the Mean Green men’s and women’s basketball teams since 1973.

Entering the coliseum’s 42nd birthday, the university is exploring options to give it a long-lasting present.

“It’s time for an upgrade,” said UNT president Neal Smatresk. “It’s an old facility by now.”

Smatresk has attended many Mean Green basketball games this season and has been surveying various aspects of the arena, from electrical qualities to infrastructure to cosmetics. He said everything short of completely tearing the Super Pit down is a possibility.

“We’re going to spend the rest of this year reviewing it, coming up with ideas, seeing what’s possible,” Smatresk said.  “And once we get a range of costs going from mild to wild, we’ll see what we have to do versus what we’d like to do. And then we’re going to start looking for donors.”

The Super Pit is home to more than just the Mean Green basketball teams. Every year, the arena hosts graduations, cheerleading camps, orientations and elementary school events that bring a high volume of traffic through campus. To many of these patrons, experiencing the outdated venue is oftentimes their first impression of the university.

Athletic director Rick Villarreal said a master plan has to be in place before anything happens, but added the Super Pit needs to have a lasting impact on new campus visitors.

“It’s a chance to make a great impression, whether we have a basketball game or not. That building needs to make a statement about the university,” Villarreal said.

Enter President Smatresk, whose resume includes seven years at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where he oversaw a coliseum that hosted between 250 and 300 events per year. Smatresk said the Super Pit does not need a complete overhaul, but rather some touchups to keep it modern.

“The question is, what do we have to have done for this facility to stay current?” Smatresk said. “What do we have to have for its infrastructure to be refreshed and more efficient? What can we do to jazz it up and enhance it?”

For Villarreal, the first thing on the agenda is to improve both internal and external lighting.

“The lighting is terrible, and it needs to be fixed,” Villarreal said. “I think we all agree on that.”

Internally, Villarreal said he would like to see a lighting system that both improves visuals on the court and adds to the production value of a game.

“On TV, it doesn’t look good. It’s uneven,” Villarreal said. “We don’t have the ability to bring out kids one at a time and shine the light down and put a spotlight on them and bring the lights back up. Things like that add to a game, and we can’t do that right now.”

Men’s basketball head coach Tony Benford said improved external lighting would be beneficial, mainly because fans have struggled finding the Super Pit in the past.

“I have people come up and ask me, ‘Well, where is the Super Pit at?’ because they don’t know,” Benford said. “So maybe we could put big lights up top that says ‘Super Pit! Super Pit!’ Big signs with ‘Super Pit’ on it, I think that would be nice.”

Other amenities Villarreal suggested include expanding the concourses to add ticket booths and interactive zones for fans of all ages. In addition to suggesting touch screens that list Mean Green basketball facts, Villarreal said increasing interaction for children is something he’d like to see.

“We can also do an interactive type deal in the area where we put all of our pop-ups and stuff for kids,” Villarreal said. “It can be interactive in the same way, but it might be more about interactive in helping to teach kids math or English using basketball.”

But as previously mentioned, the Super Pit is about more than just basketball. Because the athletics department does not own the building, Villarreal said he would like to see funding come from other departments as well.

“We’ve already spent nearly $3 million in there putting in new scoreboards, sound systems, rolling tables and all those kinds of things,” Villarreal said. “I think at some point, it’s got to be a combination of our department’s donors and the university to get this going where it needs to go.”

Smatresk said one thing that is not on his agenda is increasing the number of seats.

“I don’t really see the need for building more seating capacity,” Smatresk said. “Winning teams will bring in the people.”

Benford said the university’s goal to improve the Super Pit speaks volumes to more than just Mean Green fans.

“We’re making a great commitment. We’ve got great boosters that want to win,” Benford said. “But I think it shows the student athletes that we are committed to winning on a high level.”

Renovations to the Super Pit could bring in more money to the university.  But Smatresk said giving the arena a makeover is about more than that.

“[It’s about] how can we use this to enhance the fans, make alumni love it like they love Apogee, to make students feel more engaged so we can have a bigger section of crazy, cheering students, and use it to build both athletics and the reputation of the institution,” Smatresk said. “So it’s about building community more than it is about revenue flow.”

Featured Image: The Mean Green and the University of Alabama at Birmingham huddle up before their game on Feb. 12 at the Super Pit. Photo by Ryan Vance – Senior Staff Photographer

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