The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

August 2, 2013

ASU seeks support for convention center

— The County Commission Monday will consider appropriating $25,000 to Athens State University to allow school officials to obtain plans for a possible civic center complex on campus.

The county allocation would go toward paying for an architectural interior design and exterior rendering of ASU’s Carter Hall in a partnership with the university and the city of Athens, with each entity contributing $25,000.

“The purpose of bringing in an architect to do schematics and preliminary plans is to give all three parties a clear understanding and cost of what is involved,” said Dr. Bob Glenn, president of Athens State since August 2008. “It gives us a chance to collectively say, ‘Here’s what we want and now let’s talk about the cost.’”

The campus building more commonly known as the old Carter gymnasium could be the starting point for a complex that could include a theater, exhibit hall, conference center and arena.

“The original idea we floated was to start with Carter Hall as a cornerstone to work from,” said Glenn. “We do have enough of a bare structure, or box, to put a theater where the gym is located. We have enough height in the gym to put in lights, a slanted floor with fixed seating and possibly a small balcony.

“There’s enough room between Carter Hall and Hobbs Street where you could have possibilities for an exhibition hall, small meeting rooms and an arena in the space we already have. We already have parking on campus and already have the staff to manage and maintain facilities.

“We have to talk about how that all comes together and how to work out the final partnership. Ultimately, it goes back to what the public says about our proposal.”

In 2008, Athens State conducted a feasibility study to examine the need for a large event center. The county renovated a warehouse and opened the 20,000-square foot Limestone County Event Center on Pryor Street in September 2010.

In January, Glenn gave a preliminary estimate for the proposed project as between $15 million and $30 million, depending on the scope of the complex. He said Thursday those figures were based on his experience overseeing the construction of campus buildings. He has also visited other campus facilities, including the 90,000-square foot Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville. Athens, Limestone and ASU officials have toured the facility, which is a major complex that hosts events ranging from Division I basketball tournaments and concerts to trade shows and conferences.

“The Curb Center was built for about $25 million, and it’s the kind of flexible facility we would want to look at here,” Glenn said. “I’ve built a number of buildings but what do I know about the actual cost of square footage? That’s why we need an architect and an awareness of the construction cost.

“I would like for us to have a clear model that all three entities can support, then take it to the drafting table and develop a funding model. Then we would go out to the public and ask if they’re willing to support this. We would have to have broad support to go forward.”

The County Commission will meet at 10 a.m. Monday, Aug. 5, at the Clinton Street courthouse annex, while the City Council will hold a work session at 4:30 p.m. and a regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 12, at the Athens Police Department municipal courtroom.

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