COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said yesterday that she has begun looking into the possibility of expanding and renovating Cole Field House.
Yow said that she would like to have 4,000 to 5,000 seats added to the 14,500-seat arena, along with as many as 20 sky boxes. The renovation would involve creating a room for Terrapin Club functions as well as expanding the current lobby area with what Yow called "a Cadillac version of the walk of fame."
"It's in the dream phase," said Yow, who has begun preliminary discussions with university officials about the project. "But it's a dream worthy of attention."
Though Yow, who took over at Maryland Sept. 1, won't know how much the expansion and renovation would cost until a feasibility study is ordered and completed, she estimates it likely would be as much as $20 million to $25 million. Only $7 million of a $49 million project begun in 1988 to upgrade existing facilities at Maryland was intended for Cole Field House.
"I tend to be conservative, so it could be only $15 to $18 million," Yow said of her current estimate.
The initial phase of the project, started while Lew Perkins was Maryland's athletic director, saw the state legislature provide matching funds to those raised privately by the university. It helped Maryland to renovate Byrd Stadium and build a separate state-of-the-art training facility for the football team. There are still plans to expand the stadium's capacity by about 7,000 seats despite the team's lack of success and plummeting attendance.
But this part of the project, which first was reported by the Terrapin Times, grew out of the fact that the men's basketball team has become a significant draw during the past year. Yow said that there were only 400 season tickets remaining for 1994-95 as of yesterday, and those should be gone shortly. Those do not include the allotment of student tickets and 200 seats reserved each game for walk-up sales.
"It's kind of sad and ironic," said Yow. "When we look at our financial problems, we have a program that is so successful we can sell more tickets than are available. . . . We don't need a new building. We just need more seats."
When Cole Field House was built at a cost of $3.3 million for the 1955 season, it was one of the largest arenas in the country. It remains the second largest on-campus facility in the Atlantic Coast Conference behind North Carolina's Dean E. Smith Center, which seats 21,572.
Yow said she has spoken briefly with university president William E. Kirwan about the plans, which come at a time when the athletic department reportedly is $6.8 million in debt. She said the school's basketball coaches, Gary Williams and Chris Weller, "share in the idea of keeping their programs moving along the same tract."
Yow said that there was skepticism when, while she was AD at Saint Louis University, the basketball team moved from a cozy 10,000-seat arena to one with 18,500 seats.
"It's always a risk when you make a move like that," said Yow. "But once we started selling out, it was really special."