Cole Field House would be reborn under a $155 million plan to convert the 59-year-old former basketball arena at the University of Maryland into an indoor football practice facility and "innovation" lab to help the school recruit athletes and others who are would-be entrepreneurs.
The development is designed to help Maryland's athletics program keep pace with its Big Ten Conference rivals — nearly all the member schools already have indoor facilities — while aiming to give Maryland an edge by creating a campus¿wide entrepreneurship program to be housed in the football building.
"Maryland really has a chance to brand itself as the entrepreneurship university," said Under Armour's founder and CEO, Kevin Plank, a Maryland graduate and former special-teams football player who has been involved in planning the new field house and intends to contribute financially.
The project, which is awaiting Board of Regents approval, is to be funded in part with $25 million in state funds and $25 million from the university — to be repaid from Big Ten revenues. This is the school's first year in the conference. The rest would be privately funded.
"The university and athletic director are going to continue to ask for allocations for future years," said state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "But the majority of this has to come from private donations."
Plank said in an interview that he plans to write a large check, "but I'm not writing the whole thing. We're all in this thing together. Everybody's got to put skin in the game."
The plans were made public Monday on the Board of Regents' website in advance of a finance committee meeting Thursday when they will be discussed. The full board is expected to consider them in December.
Maryland officials said it would be premature to comment before the committee meets.
The practice facility would be built from the bones of Cole, the Terps' basketball home until the 2002-03 season. Now used for intramural sports and other student recreational activities, Cole would be gutted, but the building's iconic name and front facade would be preserved.
"Hey, put up a little sign in there for me," said former Maryland men's basketball coach Lefty Driesell, whose teams were 213-44 at Cole during 17 seasons ending in 1986. "I'm glad they're keeping the name. The name 'Cole' will be there forever."
Those involved in the project say the practice facility is expected to have uses beyond football and may wind up with a catchy nickname: "The Shell."
The project's first phase — converting Cole into a practice field — is targeted for completion in April 2017.
The second phase will see construction of the larger training complex, a sports medicine center and the innovation lab. Two natural-grass practice fields would be built just outside Cole where there are now tennis courts and parking lots.
The sports medicine center would be a partnership between the university, the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and the University of Maryland Medical System with the goal of increasing access to the best sports medicine while also exploring "innovative solutions to improve human performance."
The innovation lab was described as the home of a new academic program for the entire school offering "a robust combination of an expansion of entrepreneurial activities, real¿world experiences and internships," in documents provided to the Board of Regents.
Plank said the lab would help Maryland recruit athletes and other would-be entrepreneurs "who want the music label, want the clothing line, want the line of products and endorsements and the whole thing."
Maryland has been seeking to use its Big Ten move to engage its alumni base.
The percentage of alumni donating to the university lags behind such other Big Ten schools as Michigan and Ohio State.
"When Kevin Plank steps up, that sends a message to a lot of people," said Barry DesRoches, a longtime booster and donor.
It's not the first time Maryland has examined designs for an indoor practice facility.
The school previously explored an alternative plan for a $187 million facility on the existing practice fields. The proposal would have required relocating Shipley Field, the baseball stadium, at a cost of $15 million.
A few years ago, Plank and Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson toured the football facilities at Oklahoma State, where financier T. Boone Pickens has donated heavily. From that visit, the Maryland delegation got ideas about the design and scope of their own project.
The premise for the new design is to take the nostalgia of Cole — where the men's basketball team had a 486-151 record — and repurpose it with modern twists.
Elvis Presley once performed at Cole, which was the site of the 1966 NCAA game in which Texas Western became the first team to win the championship with a starting lineup of all African-American players.
Maryland officials cautioned that the early renderings may be changed. The current plan calls for natural light to flow into the indoor practice facility from the roof. The outdoor practice fields would be directly adjacent to Cole. Much of the football operations — and the head coach's office — would be moved from Gossett Football Team House into the new building.
Future plans call for other varsity sports to move into Gossett after the football operations depart.
Maryland coaches have long anticipated an indoor practice site.
Plank said the school needed to give the coaches "a fighting chance."
"Imagine we've got a lightning storm outside and they're literally putting the players on busses," Plank said. "Either they drive them down to Redskin Park or they're sticking them on buses to Owings Mills and borrowing a facility from the Ravens. How is a coach supposed to prepare?"