I remember walking into the newly completed PK Park for the first time last spring and standing simply in awe of what I had seen. All the seats were close to the field. The fan experience, from the atmosphere to the food to the view, was impeccable. And the facilities for the players, from the playing field itself to the practice facilities beyond right field were top of the line. And I distinctly remember one thought:
"If Oregon did this with $15 million, how awesome will the new arena be with $200 million to spend."
I now have my answer. $200 million get you the finest arena, college or pro, anywhere in the country
Thanks to Marc Labadie and Bob Thompson from TVA Architects, I was able to go on a tour of the arena led by one of the design architects. I got to see every level of the building, from the nosebleeds, to courtside, to the exclusive clubs for the big donors, and what I saw blew me away.
Join me after the jump for a photo tour of the new home of Oregon basketball:
Lets start our tour on the exterior of the arena. Matthew Knight Arena has three entrances, the main entrance being at the corner of Franklin and Villard. The marquee outside the main entrance of MKA:
Here is the main entrance proper:
Just to the left of the main entrance, as you go up Villard, you see where the two practice courts are located, right across the pathway from East Campus Graduate Village. Notice the extensive bike parking in front of the arena.
As we circle around now to the 13th Avenue side of the arena, we see the north entrance. Two interesting factors come into play on this side of the arena. There are extensive gardens adjoining the arena to collect and treat water runoff from the facility (the first LEED certified arena in the country). Also, 13th will be closed to regular traffic on game days to serve as the drop off and pick up site for LTD park and ride.
Finally, we wrap around to the third and final entrance, the west entrance. This is located across from the Hamilton housing complex and adjacent to Humpy Lumpy Lawn, and will likely be the entrance used by the majority of the student. The jumbotron is clearly visible inside the building. One of the recurring themes of the architecture are the clean lines between significant points on the arena and other points on campus. For example, it is a straight line from the entrance of the new Ford Alumni Center to the arena marquee. But a more interesting example is that it is a clean line from the doors of the west entrance across Humpy Lumpy Lawn to the entrance of Hayward Field. Another interesting feature is that the lower concourse will stay dimly lit at all times, becoming a bright spot rather than a dark zone on campus when the arena is not in use.
As we enter the arena from the west entrance, take a look at the lower concourse. Its huge. We're not in Mac Court anymore:
The next picture is of the same concourse, but looking up, so that you can get a look at just how much space there is. Also note the white oak finish on the inner wall. This was always a project with a fixed cost of $200 million. When it was designed, construction and material costs were at an all time high, and the arena design was a pared down version of what we see here. A lot of features, such as the white oak finish, the practice courts, and the hydrotherapy rooms, were written into the design as 'optional' features, that would make for a nicer arena, but that it was assumed that there would never be funds for. However, when the recession hit, and prices for construction and materials went way down, the 'optional' features became a reality.
Some of the concession stands on the main concourse.
We now circumnavigate the main concourse heading east (clockwise). The interior shot of the concourse facing Franklin:
The graphics that adorn the inner walls of the arena are really cool. The fight song superimposed on the history of Oregon basketball completely encircles the arena. Every significant event in Oregon basketball is documented, including my favorite picture from a photographic standpoint, a money shot of Aaron Brooks hitting the game winner to beat #1 UCLA in 2007 (which, for some reason, I didn't snap a picture of).
There are also two Duck Shops in the interiors of the arena, at due north and due south:
We've now complete a half circle around the arena, and have reached the concourse just inside the main entrance:
Nothing was too minute to be done in an artful manner. Even the portable food carts look cool. The metal part below the white counter will have similar graphics to those on the walls. Also, notice all the TV's in the building. They number in the hundreds. You won't completely miss the game if you have to take your three year old to the bathroom (oh, and there are a lot of those as well).
We now reach the practice courts. There are too courts that go end to end, and a curtain can be pulled down so that two different teams can use a court simultaneously. Scheduling conflicts for practice are a thing of the past. Teams can even practice when other events are happening in the main arena. The first picture of the east court, the second on the west. Notice the white 'holes' in the wall above the basket on either side in the west court (and I believe I saw similar ones in the east court, but in on one of the side walls so you can't see it well in the photo). Screens will be going in those holes. All practices at this level are filmed. If something happens in practice that Coach Altman or Coach Westhead thinks the players need to see, the practice is being shown on those screens, which are also hooked up to DVR. They can simply pull out their remote, 'rewind' practice, and show the players what needs to be shown. How cool is that?
And the view of Bean as we head back out to the south concourse:
Finally, we turn to enter the seating bowl:
Matt Court, in all its glory:
The scoreboard is just amazing (and the frame is two Os), but the floor in person is really, really cool. The trees are don so well. I'm still not a fan of the Matt logo, or the "Deep in the Woods," or the Kilkenny graphics. But the trees, they look really fantastic. Lets get a better look:
And the jumbotron. It wouldn't be Oregon athletics without a Bi-Mart logo:
Look how steep the seating bowl is. We'll get a view from the very top row later. The bowl was the most important element in the design of MKA. There are no suites. Its also incredibly steep There is not a bad seat in the house, and the noise has nowhere to go but down.
There are wide stairways at Matthew Knight Arena but, since we can, lets take an elevator to the upper levels of the building. We arrive on the upper concourse on the west end, where we are greeted to a panoramic window of the rest of campus. You can see just about everything: Hayward Field, PLC, the route down 13th. I chose to focus this picture on one of my favorite buildings on campus:
Unlike in some arenas, the commonfolk in the upper part of the arena are not made to feel like second class citizens. The concourses remain large in upper bowl, still with plenty of TVs and concessions:
The concourse does narrow on the side of the arena, but its still as wide as anything we would ever see in Mac Court:
And lets get a view of one of my other favorite buildings:
Lets peek inside the upper bowl. The view from the top row in the house, and its still a good one. Curtains can also be pulled to hide the upper bowl, creating a smaller atmosphere for evens like volleyball and women's basketball:
We couldn't bring over the plywood seats from Mac?
Oh, and we have hustleboards:
Lets take that elevator down to the event level, shall we? After heading down, we now enter the McArthur Club, where the big donors get the schmooze before the game (bet I'll never step foot in this room again):
Lovin' the graphics on the wall down here:
And the cool floors, with the previous logos from the PIT:
And, even more exclusive than the MacArthur Club is the Founders Club, where the Uber-donors get to schmooze before the game:
Between here and the floor, we saw some things that I wasn't able to get good pictures of because of the glare. We didn't get to see the locker rooms, but we saw the weight room and the hydrotherapy room, both of which, while on a smaller scale, rival what we have at the Casanova Center. These are top notch facilities with no expense spared. Finally, we step onto the arena floor itself:
The bottom line is this. Matthew Knight Arena is a game changer on many levels. Although we are known as a football school, we have the nicest arena in all of college athletics. Nobody can question our commitment to basketball. Recruits will love it. We will get marquee non-conference games (Michigan State is already coming next season). We can even get NCAA tournament games. I believe that, right now, we have the building and the coach to take our program to the next level. Its also a game changer for Lane County in general, as the concerts and events that this building will be able to draw will be a huge boost to the area. Plus, its a sparkling entry way to campus.
I'll always be sad that I'll never see a game at Mac Court again. But Matthew Knight Arena blew me away. They did it right. First and foremost, they kept in mind that the main purpose of the building was for college basketball, and designed it accordingly. WIth the steep grade and no suites, the views are great. And I've no doubt it will get loud. I don't know if the environment of Mac Court will ever fully be replicated, but I think this is as good as it can get in a modern arena.
But even its a tad less loud (and I have no idea that it would be, I'll tell you after I go to a game next month), the other amenities make up for it. No plywood seats, climbing a jillion flights of musty stairs, or beams and overhangs getting in my way. No more long bathroom lines of windows covered in black paint. As much as we love Mac Court, its outdated and falling apart. We knew we would face this day sooner or later. And while my children won't make their Oregon basketball memories in Mac Court, theirs will be no less fond. Sometimes, change is a good thing, and this building is definitely a good thing. But, more importantly, the best memories are of the games themselves and the players who play them. This building will allow Oregon basketball to draw a higher quality of both.
All images in this article are copyrighted by David Piper.