By Bill Koch
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The University of Cincinnati athletic department will soon announce plans for the construction of Varsity Village, a complex of athletic fields and facilities that will dramatically change the face of athletics at the school.
The improved facilities are expected to make UC's athletic teams more attractive to top athletes and more competitive nationally.
Construction of the $80 million project will begin in March, with the village scheduled to be completed in fall of 2005.
The centerpiece is a 180,000-square-foot athletic center that will house all of the athletic offices, training facilities, an academic center and a museum that will detail the history of both the university and its athletic department.
The project also includes a new, 3,200-seat baseball stadium; a new outdoor track and renovated soccer stadium with 2,500 seats and a press box; tennis courts; a recreation field for students; and a green area between the baseball stadium and the tennis courts, which will be built on top of a parking garage.
All of the fields will be made of the artificial FieldTurf used at Nippert Stadium.
"We've built a good people infrastructure here," said athletic director Bob Goin, the driving force behind the project. "Now we need the facilities to go with it."
The complex, Mr. Goin said, will be paid for with private funds and money from the athletic department. UCATS, the fund-raising arm of the athletic department, hopes to raise $41 million. Mr. Goin said roughly $25 million already has been committed, even though there has yet to be a formal announcement of the plans.
Mr. Goin is convinced he can raise the money to complete the project. "No one has ever raised that kind of money at the university from the private sector for a project," he said. "It'll be the biggest charge, but I think we're going to be able to do that.
"People are buying into it. They want to be good. They want the things that make it a very competitive athletic program. In order to do that, you have to have a good staff and you've got to have good facilities because your competition has them."
One of the first things Mr. Goin said he noticed upon his arrival at UC in 1997 was the need to upgrade facilities. Coaches' and administrators' offices, for example, are scattered throughout three different buildings
In the new facility, they'll be housed together.
"Our Olympic sports coaches have never felt ownership in the Shoe," Mr. Goin said. "I was surprised by the office complex. I've seen high schools that, quite frankly, have better settings than this. I was taken aback, knowing that if we were going to go to the next level, that had to change."
The baseball program, coached by Brian Cleary, stands to benefit as much as any UC program with a new stadium that will increase seating capacity from 200 seats to 3,500. The new facility will also have locker rooms, which Johnny Bench Field, the Bearcats' current home, doesn't.
"It will really allow UC baseball to become a more involved part of the amateur baseball community," Mr. Cleary said. "It seems like every year we see Moeller and Elder in the playoffs at Wright State University. Now we might be able to have them play here.
"And it will allow people to see the excitement of college baseball. Attendance is booming across the country, but we haven't been able to capitalize on that."
The football and basketball offices, now in in Shoemaker Center, will be relocated to the athletic center. In their place a student health center will be built.
"When we get to the new place it's going to be a real nice building," said Bill Schier, UC's track and cross country coach. "They're doing some very creative things with it, honoring our history in all sports."
The Armory Fieldhouse, the home of UC's 1961 and 1962 national championship basketball teams, will be converted into an indoor practice facility that can be used by the football and track teams.
"I don't think our athletic center will take a back seat to anyone's," Mr. Goin said.
"But we're landlocked. We had to take a pretty imaginative approach to squeeze this in and be accommodating."
The village will tie into a student recreation center under construction outside the northwest corner of Nippert Stadium and will wrap around the stadium into the athletic center. The recreation center will include an auditorium and a swimming pool.
"I think this is going to present UC athletics to visitors, students, fans and to people who right now don't follow our program in a much different light," Mr. Cleary said.
Visitors to UC will begin to notice a difference as early as January when Laurence Hall is scheduled to be demolished. When that happens, the athletic offices housed there will be moved to the Edwards Center up the hill from Shoemaker.
The UC baseball team will not have on-campus home next spring and will play its games at various sites around town, but the schedule allows for the new baseball facility to be ready for the 2004 season.
Likewise, the swim team, which trains in Laurence Hall, will be forced to move to St. Xavier High School's Keating Natatorium until the new complex is finished.
"It's an inconvenience," Mr. Goin said. "It's going to change our lives for awhile. But it's a temporary inconvenience for permanent improvement."
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