We’ve shown you the three capital projects in Phase I that have been launched as part of the Denver Advantage. And, there is no doubt that a spectacular campus will benefit student athletes, recruiting, and student retention.
The crown jewel during Phase II (years 5-10) will be the redevelopment of the corner of Buchtel Boulevard and University. When visitors enter the University gateway off I-25, they will see a vastly improved campus. Visitors will be greeted by a hotel, ground level retail and a University welcoming center. Students and faculty will see new housing along University Boulevard extending all the way to Asbury Avenue. This 6 acres of the DU campus is currently unsightly and under-utilized. It would be difficult to argue against this much needed improvement for both the University and the community.
So, let’s start by recognizing what a solid decision this is for DU. But what are the plans for the highest performing division at DU – athletics?
The master plan is unusually quiet when it comes to Phase II improvements for athletics facilities. It is not until years 10-15 that there are thoughts of constructing a new Sports Performance facility to be located between Magness Arena and Buchtel Boulevard. The replacement of the on-campus Stapleton Tennis Center is seen as the only other future opportunity for athletics sometime after 15 years.
The Ritchie Center and Magness Arena were constructed between 1997-1999. At nearly 20 years old, the $84 million investment was one of Dan Ritchie’s biggest efforts to increase DU’s visibility and stature. But the facility faces heavy use while consumer tastes and athletic department needs are always changing.
The seating for hockey is heavy with end-zone seating and older concessions. The arena is too big for basketball and not an ideal venue for a crowd of 3,000 – 4,000 fans – and that is a realistic figure for men’s basketball, even with significant on-court improvement. We have written about expanding north side seating for lacrosse. While Peter Barton is an innovative ‘lacrosse specific’ venue, other schools have caught up and have similar stadiums along with indoor practice facilities for inclement weather. The soccer stadium is a bit awkward with a path, fence, and landscaping between the main bleachers and the field, leaving fans somewhat disconnected from the action.
To add to the complications, if DU ever ends up in a different athletics conference, they may be required to add additional facilities for softball, baseball, beach volleyball, cross country, etc.. While much of this could be done at local venues, a greater load would be put on student athlete training areas and athletic department staff and coaches on campus.
Not all of the news is bad for athletics. A beautiful campus will be a magnet for athletes. The Ritchie Center and Magness Arena are still great, if not state-of-the-art venues. Also, the Denver Advantage focuses on major capital projects and capital roadmaps are always subject to change. However, there is likely to be restricted capital for ‘non-strategic projects’ as DU pursues their aggressive 2025 Strategic Plan. Lets just hope that DU athletics are not just along for the ride and athletic projects and donors are allowed to cut the line if unique capital needs present themselves.