Southern Illinois University opened up the renovated SIU Arena during the 2010-11 season.
"It's a phenomenal change," said Kathy Schimpf, a season-ticket holder from Carbondale. "Seeing it back in the '60s when I went to school here and knowing what it looked like, and to see the transformation -- it's just awesome."
The experience of attending a Saluki game has forever changed. The old arena was serviceable, but memorable only for the action on the court -- not for fan comfort or amenities.
"I think it's fantastic," raved Ray Burroughs of Murphysboro, who has been a season-ticket holder since 1966. "It's got our Saluki colors. The floor looks great. The entire place looks great. It will be a fun place to watch a game."
The main entrance on the East side of the building is more than three times as big as the old entry. It features a Team Store, Hall of Fame, and a spacious area for fans to gather before entering the concourse.
Once inside the concourse, fans discover expanded concession areas, flat-screen TVs at every turn and new restrooms. A trip around the concourse is like taking a stroll down memory lane with wall-to-wall photos and graphics. From Walt Frazier to the ESPN Gameday visit, all of the historic moments in Saluki Basketball are captured and displayed.
"I'm just taking it all in," said Nadine Lucas, a Carbondale resident and season-ticket holder since 1975. "They are all good seats. It's really impressive. I'm really glad we have it. It was overdue."
As soon as you step inside the seating bowl, there is an overwhelming sensation of Saluki pride. The multi-colored seating of year's past has been replaced with solid maroon. Large graphics adorn each corner of the building. The sparkling new video board looks like a giant plasma TV. The roof, which was re-painted white, creates a clean, crisp setting.
Gone are the creaky, wooden bleachers. In fact, the upper bowl features some of the arena's most comfortable seats and best sight lines. It's an old cliche, but there's not a bad seat in the house.
"Renovated SIU Arena means the end of apologies, and the end of excuses," said Mike Reis, emcee of the program portion of the event. "We no longer have to apologize for anything here in this facility, and there are no longer any excuses for not being good at what we do. No matter whether we play, whether we coach, whether we administrate, broadcast, or coach -- look at the tools we have. Aren't these the tools that you should have in Division I, and the tools we deserve?"
The court itself has been resurfaced and re-painted and sports a more minimalist look. The area inside the 3-point arc was stained a darker color to off-set the rest of the court.
The renovation, which was completed in phases during a 15-month timeframe, cost $29.9 million. It was financed with both public and private sources.
"The completion of SIU Arena is a tremendous accomplishment, and it will have a big impact on our community's economy, our university and our athletic program," said director of athletics Mario Moccia.
There are perks for those who have generously supported Saluki Athletics. Donors who made major gifts to Saluki Way have access to the John Cook Club Room on the upper concourse. Saluki Athletic Scholarship Fund members whose annual donation exceeds $600 can visit the Old National Bank Saluki Lounge on the North end of the lower bowl.
"Our students and our friends and neighbors throughout the region expect and deserve no less," said Chancellor Dr. Rita Cheng.
SIU Arena Quick Facts
First Game: Dec. 1, 1964 (SIU 78, Oklahoma State 55)
Original Cost: $4.3 million
First Game after renovation: Nov. 16, 2010 (Northeastern 63, SIU 62 (OT))
Renovation Cost: $29.9 million