Renovations at Xavier's Cintas Center on time, within budget

Views of the Cintas Center construction from the new hospitality center next to "The Lookout" (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Within 48 hours after the buzzer sounded at the end of Xavier's 79-65 win over DePaul on March 4, construction crews began work at the Cintas Center.

The arena, which opened in 2000, is experiencing its first major facelift. The main focuses of the project are centered around improving premium and group seating options, while also maximizing the full space of the arena to improve fan flow on gameday.

There have been consistent improvements made to the facility throughout the years, but none that drastically altered the look of the interior.

In 2017-18, fans will see for the first time a fully closed in bowl with new seats installed above the students' section at the north end of the arena.

The new section, known as "The Lookout," will feature just under 200 seats that come with access to an all-you-can-eat buffet. They will cantilever out over top of the students, putting fans right behind the basket and above the opponents' bench.

Another new feature for fans will be a group hospitality area located to the right of the new lookout seats. Groups will be able to rent out a large room with an open entryway that leads out to a balcony, offering a unique vantage point to watch the game as well as space to mingle with a large party. The room will feature hardwood floors, a wall of TVs, and potentially virtual reality units.

Across the arena, the Joseph Club is getting refreshed with new comfortable seating options branded as "The Living Room" complete with screens for each seat to keep up with replays, stats, and other games. Those seats also feature all-inclusive food and beverage service from a dedicated server.

Outside the Crawford Academic Center on the second floor, located under the Xavier Hall of Fame, Byron Larkin and Joe Sunderman will be hosting their pre-game shows live in an area that will be known as The Traditions Club.

"Byron and Joe will be over there, Andy Mac(Williams) will still be doing his thing (inside Duff's), just another option for people to hang out at before the game," Xavier Athletics Director Christopher said. "The main piece of feedback we got about the Joseph Club is that it gets too crowded. There are 1,400 people who used to have access to the Joseph Club and that room is only big enough to hold 175. So what we've tried to do is create a few new hospitality areas to take those 1,400 and disperse them throughout the building a little more, give them some other options."

Building off the success of D'Artagnen's Deck, which was installed at the top of the arena behind section 200 a few years ago, Xavier is introducing a new bar area behind section 215. The area will be called "The Woods" spinning off a popular drinking spot for Xavier alumni.

"The Woods" refers to a bar actually named Norwood Cafe located at the corner of Dana and Cleneay. It was demolished in 2008 when Xavier began construction on University Station.

The centerpiece of the project will be the original 100-year-old cherryback bar that spanned the 35 feet of "The Woods'" main gathering space.

While cleaning out that bar to install it inside the arena, staff members found a bag full of fake IDs confiscated over the years inside one of the drawers. The hope was those would be displayed somewhere, potentially underneath a glass top on the bar, but upon further review it was noticed that many of the old drivers' licenses still featured social security numbers, nixing that idea.

The lower rows of seating on either sideline, which Xavier is calling "The Frontline," are also receiving a major upgrade. Those seats, about 550 of them, now have soft padding and chairbacks with gray leather and a blue embroidered X logo. They're also 24 inches wide, six inches wider than the old seats, and feature cupholders. They're very similar to what the Cincinnati Reds have in the "Diamond Club" right behind home plate.

Due to the expanded seats in the lower arena, many seats were removed, meaning fans were displaced. That forced all season ticket holders to come in and reselect their seats.

"The process was darn close to flawless and that's a credit to (Director of Ticketing and Premium Seating) Brett Sanders and (Director for Athletic Development) Seth Breitenstein," Christopher said. "We got a lot of feedback. Some of it was positive, some of it was really negative, most of it was right in the middle once they heard everything, sort of like, 'OK, that kind of makes sense.' But from a process standpoint, Brett and Seth really did their homework and our whole team, led by Brian Hicks, did a really nice job from a customer service standpoint."

Despite the anxiousness over changing seats, it didn't deter fans from renewing their season ticket packages.

"Our renewal rate was 95 percent, which is actually a tick higher than usual," Christopher said. "We're typically in the low 90s. The net effect is our season ticket number will be up even from last year which was a high from the last eight or nine years."

Xavier's administration had made prediction models of how they expected the seats to sell and the flow went about as they anticipated, with a few interesting exceptions.

Seats sold faster on the east side of the arena than expected. Fan feedback suggested this was for two main reasons: they like being able to see Xavier's players and coaches on the bench, and for the vast majority that's the same side as their parking is located.

Also, corner seats sold much faster on the south side of the arena than the north side because fans weren't too keen on sitting next to the student section or band.

The arena lost seats in some places, mainly in "The Frontline" and the area where "The Woods" is being installed, and added seats in other places such as "The Lookout" and 26 new courtside seats that are being added. The end result is the capacity of the Cintas Center is virtually remaining the same, dropping slightly from 10,250 to 10,224.

While this round of improvements certainly centers around noticeable upgrades for the fans, the student-athletes weren't forgotten. They're also getting a massive new training room and a few other smaller upgrades, such as a lounge room connected to the practice gym.

Those improvements come just one year after the debut of their brand new state-of-the-art weight facility.

"The new training room will be triple the square-footage of the old one," Christopher said. "It's a significant upgrade and from a recruiting standpoint it'll offer a completely different feel for recruits when they see it."

Crews got to work tearing out the student section and old retractable seats immediately after the season ended, but work was halted for a few weeks for Xavier's graduation along with about 35 high school graduations. Now, it's a race to get done in time for the fall sports season.

The new retractable seats will be installed within the next week and the basketball court will be placed back inside the arena, though pushed all the way up against the south end. This will allow the team to workout on the Cintas floor while construction is still underway.

Right now, only half of "The Frontline" seats are in, "The Lookout" is just a steel beam frame, the Joseph Club is completely stripped, and the new training room is a mess of electrical wiring and drywall.

Christopher said he expects the gym to be usable by June for the start of volleyball games and basketball practice and fully ready to go by Musketeer Madness in mid-October.

So far, the entire project is on time and within budget.