editorial (2007-45)

Thompson-Boling Arenaâ's New and Glossy Guts Add Drama


Still a sowâ’s ear on the outside, itâ’s a silk purse on the inside

More than $20 million in renovations and additions to Thompson-Boling Arena and its grounds have produced a vastly improved interior for the 25,000-seat basketball arena and assembly hallâ"but has done nothing to mitigate the monstrosity of the buildingâ’s exterior.

The University of Tennessee spent $19 million inside the arena, dramatizing its visual impact with new black, rather than orange, seating, 32 skybox-style suites and 166 premium club loge seats. The effect is impressive. Even Don DeVoe, who was fired unceremoniously after the arena was opened, was dazzled by the interior changes. DeVoe, now retired from coaching and living here, was quoted in the News Sentinel as saying the place looks like â“a palace,â” worthy of a National Basketball Association franchiseâ’s home court.

Upgrading the arena has succeeded in enhancing the universityâ’s 1980s investment in it, now hovering around $75 million. According to UT Athletic Director Mike Hamilton, it would cost more than $250 million to duplicate it if UT started on it today. And itâ’s approaching the day when the five millionth fan will pass through its turnstiles, first opened in 1987.

The newly refurbished and redecorated hall will take advantage of the popularity and marketing skills of UT coaches Bruce Pearl and Pat Summitt, as well as the recognized attributes of the Lady Vols and the freshly revitalized menâ’s basketball program.

There was no attempt, however, to dress up the arenaâ’s exterior, which looks as if it were designed to house a nuclear reactor. Its vinyl cladding and beige color give it approximately the aesthetic appeal of a low-grade mobile home.

Compounding the impression that pile of ugly leaves is the almost finished Pratt Pavilion, a practice facility built with private donations as a sort of Thompson-Boling annex just to the west. Resembling nothing so much as an outsized quonset hut, the practice pavilion is decorated with brick and green glass embellishments that donâ’t quite save it from itself.

Nothing UT has done has raised the architectural bar along the north bank of the Tennessee River in its bailiwick. Of course, when the design competition pits the university against a towering football stadium, some parking garages, a sewage treatment plant, and a gravel distribution center at the foot of a rusting railway trestle, there may not be the element of challenge needed to secure state-of-the-art aesthetics. The view from the south riverbank isnâ’t exactly inspirational, but the determining factor in the UT design decisions was more likely keeping to the bottom line on costs.

Weâ’d simply hope that when the next round of arena renovations becomes necessary, some attention is given to the exterior. Surely something could be done to make it less imposingly boring. And we hope it doesnâ’t sit there unadorned for another 20 years.

Meanwhile, letâ’s get ready to support the schoolâ’s basketball program, which has been carried by Summittâ’s Lady Volsâ’ reputation for most of the Thompson-Boling years until Coach Pearl stepped on to the scene and elevated the menâ’s team to the point where it enters this season ranked in the nationâ’s top 10.

Ann Yates, 1948-2007

Ann Yates, who died last Friday of cancer, was an early supporter of Metro Pulse as well as a pioneer in the health food and holistic health practices industry. In effect, Ann was a new-health practitioner when it was really new and mostly misunderstood in East Tennessee. She campaigned tirelessly to encourage that understanding. And we appreciate her support of our publication.

Her contributions to the Knoxville alternative scene included Natureâ’s Pantry, which she founded in 1977, and Well by Nature, which she developed on Bearden Hill next to her health food store in 2002. Her family expects to carry on in both those businesses, which is inspiring to those who valued their offerings and her knowledgeable guidance. She was first and ever a teacher, and Knoxville will miss her teachings.

A memorial service will be held Friday, Nov. 16, at 4 p.m. at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church at 2931 Kingston Pike.


All content © 2007 Metropulse .