ARLINGTON -- If you build it, they will come. In this particular instance, they came in record numbers as a crowd of 6,228 watched the University of Texas at Arlington's dramatic 67-66 victory over UT-San Antonio at the grand opening of the College Park Center.
The new $78 million state-of-the-art facility takes the place of Texas Hall, where the basketball games were played on a stage in an auditorium that was more suited for a play than basketball plays. In 1997, Sports Illustrated called Texas Hall the best place to watch college basketball. Ironically, the shiny new 218,000 square-foot-arena is just the type of thing that can draw UTA the national attention of SI as the school prepares to move into the Western Athletic Conference next fall.
A week after closing Texas Hall with a victory over Stephen F. Austin before a crowd of 1,262, the UTA Mavericks opened the new building with a double-header that began with the women defeating UTSA 51-40. The ribbon cutting ceremony took place at center court between the two games and following a performance by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. The ceremony was a celebration of the university's rich history, which began in 1895 and culminated with the christening of a new era complete with fireworks.
We spoke to several students who were filled with pride at the sight of the long overdue arena. The resounding sentiment was "this place is so cool!"
I thought the excitement level had reached a fever pitch when UTA junior forward Kevin Butler flew through the air a la Dwyane Wade for a thunderous dunk midway through the first half. Then senior LaMarcus Reed began draining threes and had his own breakaway slam as the huge crowd went crazy. Reed finished with a game-high 24 points. Butler added 21, including a pair of free throws with 13.7 seconds left to seal the school-record 12th consecutive win. The victory improves the Mavericks to 16-5 and 8-0 in Southland conference play.
"We are extremely excited about this unbelievable opportunity to play in College Park Center," UTA men's coach Scott Cross said. "It is almost like a dream come true to play in a facility that is so spectacular."
Texas Hall had a tradition of big name performers over the years, starting with Louis Armstrong opening the venue in October 1965 and continued through the years with the likes of Neil Diamond, KISS, Jimmy Fallon and Jerry Seinfeld. The 7,000-seat College Park Center will carry on the tradition with events including concerts, stage events and speakers. Upcoming events range from a Drake concert to ESPN Friday Night Fights to a Mavericks Speakers Series featuring Jeb Bush.
The arena designed by HKS -- the same firm responsible for Cowboys Stadium -- is the centerpiece of the mixed-use College Park District project that will include residential and retail just south of downtown Arlington. It only makes sense that just down the street from the greatest football stadium in the world, there is now a world-class arena to make the city proud.
COLLEGE PARK CENTER 601 S. PECAN ST ARLINGTON, TX 76109
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