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Everybody wants a seat in Bud's building.

Well-Heeled Fans Power a $30 Million Drive Into Big-Time College Basketball at Arkansas

THE GROUND-BREAKING ceremony for a new multipurpose arena at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville began with a slam dunk instead of the traditional shovelful of dirt.

And it was an appropriate gesture, considering the facility will be the new home for the Arkansas Razorback men's and women's basketball programs and the man doing the slamming on the four-foot goal was James "Bud" Walton.

His move to the hoop symbolized a $15 million gift of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. stock to help bankroll the project.

"I like for people to do some things on their own," Walton said in an interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "So I told Frank |Broyles~ that if they were talking about $30 million, I'd go for $15 million."

In addition to Walton, Broyles, the UA athletic director, found several other Razorback boosters in an especially giving mood. One anonymous donor ponied up $1 million. Ted Harrod of Dallas, Pauline and Larry Whitaker of Rogers and Scott Washburn of Rogers were among the names of larg e contributors to later surface publicly.

Walton, co-founder of Wal-Mart, did feel a tinge of embarrassment at having the university board of trustees name the building in his honor.

He took the recognition in stride, though.

"In another 20 or 30 years, there will be somebody else and you'll build another one," said Walton, whose wealth is perhaps only surpassed by his modesty.
Top Five Biggest
On-Campus Arenas
 (ranked by seating capacity)
Syracuse (N.Y.) University 33,000
University of Tennessee
at Knoxville 24,535
Brigham Young University
at Provo, Utah 22,700
University of North Carolina
at Chapel Hill 21,444
University of Arkansas
at Fayetteville 18,600

Walton Arena will have a maximum permanent seating capacity of 18,600. Broyles sees areas of the facility that could accommodate temporary bleachers, thus pushing attendance to more than 19,000.

"The original projection was for 14,000 with the ability to build more seats as we went," says Rick Schaeffer, UA sports information director. "Then, as we got more interest as we went along we knew we needed more seats. Coach Broyles told the architects, 'We need more. We need more.'"

Schaeffer says interest exceeded expectations, with demands for more than 25,000 tickets.

Only four other universities will have on-campus arenas with more seating than Arkansas.

These are at Syracuse (N.Y.) University, 33,000; the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, 24,535; Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, 22,700; and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 21,444. The University of Nevada at Las Vegas presently is fifth with an 18,500 seat arena.

Walton Arena will be the third-largest basketball arena in the Southeastern Conference (behind Tennessee's and the University of Kentucky's 23,000-seat Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington).

However, one Walton Arena amenity may separate it from the pack, according to Jim Jones, the construction superintendent for Huber Hunt & Nichols Construction Co. of Dallas.

The ratio of women's bathrooms is more than 2-to-1 relative to comparable projects. Perhaps the waiting lines at Barnhill Arena will become a memory.

Walton Arena will replace Barnhill Arena, the venerable 9,000-seat building that had undergone more facelifts during the past 38 years than Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Barnhill proved to be a bane for visiting teams, as it was elevated from fieldhouse status to an arena over the years. The Razorbacks averaged only 2.7 losses per season since the first game was played on Dec. 1, 1955.

In its latter days, Barnhill also has played host to the Wal-Mart annual shareholders meeting -- billed as the largest of its kind in the world.

Though steeped in tradition and history, Barnhill increasingly became viewed as an undersized asset for the athletic program because of its limited number of seats.

Lost revenues during the 1990-91 basketball season were estimated at $2.4 million from excess ticket demand and unrealized concession sales.

A market survey indicated that fans were most willing to part with an average of $12 for a ticket, or $168 for a 14-game season book. Student tickets would be half that.

But firm information on ticket prices and packages is still unsettled. Recent reports indicate the average price may be $13 per ticket for season packages.

Current season ticket holders will move directly from their seats in Barnhill to comparable locations in Walton Arena.

And lest you miss the point that this is big business, just remember that for the most part seating preference is predicated by a fan's involvement with the Razorback Foundation Inc.

It seems money and tenure are the two key variables in securing a seat in Walton Arena. Backers with the longest trail of money over the years will get preferential treatment.

However, the UA students still will be in force at basketball games. The university has doubled student seating from 1,400 in Barnhill to 2,800 in the new arena.

Dean Lee, director of special projects for the Razorback Foundation, says a formula for a priority ranking system is being developed for ticket disbursements.

Four tickets only per buyer, please, unless we're talking about the 24 as-yet-unnamed skybox leaseholders.

The Players

The architectural team of Rosser Fabrap International of Atlanta and Mott Mobley McGowan & Griffin of Forth Smith are taking care of the design work.

Mott Mobley McGowan & Griffin is a familiar name to projects on the Fayetteville campus. Rosser Fabrap International has two well-known arenas to its credit -- the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., (known as the "Dean Dome" to Tar Heel fans) and the Great American Pyramid in Memphis, Tenn.

Dallas' Huber Hunt & Nichols, the general contractor for the project, lists the Dallas Convention Center and Student Union at the University of Arkansas at Monticello among its credits.

HH&N submitted a low bid of $24.5 million, an amount that surprised university officials who were expecting the cost to be about $4 million higher.

The runners-up in the bidding competition were:

* Manhattan Construction Co. of Tulsa, Okla., $24.93 million.

* Vratsinas Construction Co. of Little Rock/Flintco Inc. of Tulsa, $25.48 million.

* Dick Enterprise of Pittsburgh, $25.54 million.

* Law Co. of Wichita, Kan., $25.6 million.

* Nabholz Construction Co. of Conway, $25.68 million.

* Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Greeley, Colo., $25.99 million.

* Martin K. Eby Construction Co. of Wichita, $26 million.

The arena was topped out amid nasty weather on Feb. 24 and reports that the project was more than a month behind schedule.

A load of overtime likely may be in order to have things ready for Walton Arena's opening tip-off next season, planned for Dec. 1.
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Title Annotation:Bud Walton of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Mar 29, 1993
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