UMass Lowell Connector Logo

UMass Lowell plans to expand Tsongas Center

Marlon Pitter
Connector Editor

UMass Lowell has announced plans to add an athletic practice facility adjacent to the Tsongas Center. The proposed 50,000-square-foot structure will be an addition to the current arena between the Merrimack River and the existing portion, dedicated primarily to host ice hockey practices, as well as both men’s and women’s basketball practices.

Along with the addition of practice space and locker rooms for both hockey and basketball, UMass Lowell aims to host a majority of its men’s and women’s basketball games in the  Tsongas Center by the end of its four-year Division I transition period, which is in effect through the 2016-2017 academic year.

Adding basketball practice space and playing full-time in the Tsongas Center are simply a requirement of having a Division I athletic program and being part of the America East conference, according to Director of Athletics Dana Skinner. Costello Athletic Center, which currently hosts UMass Lowell’s men’s and women’s basketball competitions, as well as volleyball, is unfit to host a growing Division I basketball program, he added.

“When America East accepted us, their expectation was that we would take this four-year transition period and eventually move all of the basketball games out of Costello and into the Tsongas Center,” said Skinner. “The advantage here is that the Tsongas Center is probably one of the best mid-major facilities anywhere, so adding a practice component allows us full use of what the facility was intended to do.”

UMass Lowell isn’t the only America East conference member with plans to renovate their basketball arenas and facilities, according to Skinner. Stony Brook University, University of Vermont and University of Maryland-Baltimore County are among America East schools that will either move into or construct new basketball facilities this season or in the near future.

“Staying in Costello isn’t going to be an option if we want to field a competitive basketball program,” said Skinner.

In addition to complying with Division I and America East standards, men’s basketball Head Coach Patrick Duquette said the Tsongas Center is very important, not only to his recruiting efforts but to the all of the athletic programs. As Duquette prepares for his second season at UMass Lowell, he said bringing in top recruits is a focal point in building a successful program as the team moves further into Division I competition.

“I think the Tsongas Center is one of the nicest athletic facilities I’ve been in, and this is only going to make it better,” said Duquette. “It’s a huge recruiting tool for us. Facilities are one of the most important factors in recruits’ decisions, and every recruit we’ve had on campus, that’s the first place we show them. It’s been a great way to sell our program.”

While the Tsongas Center is closer to East Campus than Costello Athletic Center, both Skinner and Duquette say they agree that replicating the student atmosphere of Costello and multiplying it to the capacity of the Tsongas Center will be a vital task during the transition period.

“I’ve been a basketball coach myself and I’ve played. You want the people right on top of you, as close as they can possibly get,” said Skinner. “While it’s critically important that we move basketball to the Tsongas Center, it’s equally important that we create the kind of environment that’s going to enable our teams to enjoy a home-court advantage.”

The potential benefits of the Tsongas Center expansion, according to the university and UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, go beyond the ice hockey and basketball programs. With a dedicated practice space outside of the main Tsongas Center area, the larger portion of the 6,500-seat area can host more ticketed events, making it a more profitable venue.

“This expansion will provide more opportunities for students,” Meehan said. “We can attract bigger shows, have more space and have bigger conventions. It certainly provides us with more flexibility.”

These increased opportunities for concerts and other events at the Tsongas Center, Skinner said, are important to generating the revenue to needed to make the addition of a practice facility worthwhile.

“It’s going to be critically important, with everything that we do, that we maximize revenue as best we can,” Skinner said. “The new hockey practice rink will enable us to generate revenues we’re not currently generating today.”

According to Meehan, the expansion of the arena will also create 20 to 30 full-time positions at the Tsongas Center through Global Spectrum, the company that operates the venue.

Along with providing more event and job opportunities, Meehan said the expanded area could provide possibilities for student usage. “There’s definitely some potential for student rallies before or after games at the arena,” he said.

With a steadily increasing student population and high demands for ice time,  Skinner said the practice arena should also provide more opportunities for ice time to intramural and club athletes at UMass Lowell.

“Presently, because of existing demands for ice time, we have been unable to satisfy the demands of student groups for ice time related to intramural and club sports,” Skinner said. “We expect the practice sheet would address that issue moving forward.”

In recent years, the university has constructed a number of new buildings, including the Health and Social Sciences Building, University Suites, Riverview Suites and University Crossing. Plans to expand the Tsongas Center continue what Skinner calls “an aggressive building period,” which he says is essential to improving all students’ experiences on campus.

“Keeping the students is important, not just for student-athletes but for the campus in general,” said Skinner. “If you look at the growth across the campus – the recreation center, University Crossing, improved residence halls, parking garages – all of those are important components to retaining students at UMass Lowell, to make sure they’re having the best possible experience that they can have. This is another piece to that strategy.”

Outside development near the Tsongas Center is a possibility that could come as a result of the addition, according to Meehan, and he said a hotel would be an ideal construction project.

“I think the expansion increases the need for a hotel next to the arena, which would ideally connect to it as well. This kind of development would certainly aid the city,” said Meehan.

Though the projected cost of the expansion hovers near $35 million, according to Meehan, the state approved UMass Lowell for a $30 million bond to fund the expansion. Additionally, there is no official timetable for the completion of the project, but Meehan said he estimates construction to take two years.

In the meantime, Skinner said the university is already working hard to find outside financial support for the project to minimize any financial burden, including the “Our Legacy, Our Place” alumni fundraising campaign.

While the expansion of the Tsongas Center is currently in its early stages, Skinner said the project is another sign of the university’s “upward trajectory” over the last few years.

“Our primary challenge is to make this a better school to be at for the students and a better school to be from for our alums,” said Skinner. “I think everybody feels the energy, and this is just a continuation of that.”

Marlon Pitter is a former editor-in-chief of the UMass Lowell Connector. Hailing from Hartford, Conn., he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in journalism and professional writing and a digital media minor in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @marlonpresents.

Related posts