Raymond Arke | Editor-in-Chief
Duquesne University, donors and public officials celebrated the announcement of the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, set to replace the existing A.J. Palumbo Center, at a special event on Oct. 23. The extensive renovations of the arena will begin in March 2019.
The new Fieldhouse will feature a radically different and modernized facade, new concession and team shop areas, premium seating options, new state-of-the-art video boards and renovated team locker rooms.
Some of the other, bigger additions include the Gilliand Center for Academic Success, which will include the 150-seat Father Sean Hogan Lecture Hall and the PNC Leadership Academy. The John and Karen Folino Sports Performance Center will feature a new weight room and a nutrition lab. The Vinnie Vaccarello Center, named for the leading football tackler in Duquesne history, will replace McCloskey Field and serve as an indoor, all-weather recreational and practice facility with a 60-yard track and field. The Palumbo name will remain in the A.J. Palumbo Atrium and Gate, which will serve as the main entryway to the building.
Duquesne President Ken Gormley called the plans “a total reimagination of this facility” and “a transformation.”
At the announcement ceremony, Athletics Director Dave Harper thanked the “collective effort … of wonderful, selfless group of benefactors,” who provided the $45 million for the effort. The leading partner and donor for the project was UPMC. Duquesne also received $2 million in a form of a grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The renovations are completed funded by outside donations.
Leslie Davis, senior vice president and COO for Health Services Division at UPMC, called the Fieldhouse “a magnificent new venue” and said it showed UPMC is “firmly committed to Uptown.”
“We look forward to helping you make this … a crown jewel for Pittsburgh,” Davis said.
Diane Holder, senior vice president and president of the Insurance Services Division at UPMC, also spoke, saying that the renovations are “a spectacular symbol of UPMC’s commitment … to the community.”
Chuck Cooper III, son of Duquesne basketball great Chuck Cooper, said the inclusion of his father’s name on the renovated building is “a tremendous honor.”
“I’m almost at a loss for words,” he said. “We are extremely grateful. My father loved and cherished this university.”
Cooper III suggested what may stick as a nickname for the new facility, “The Coop.”
“I’m looking forward to watching the Dukes taking people to the hoop at The Coop,” he said.
Gormley said the renovations will revitalize the entire Uptown neighborhood, in conjunction with the City of Pittsburgh’s EcoInnovation District plans.
“Soon the state-of-the-art UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse … will be at the heart of an entire neighborhood,” he said. “This building is key to energizing the entire [EcoInnovation Project].”
Gormley cited his “deep gratitude” to local elected officials who helped Duquesne land the grant from Pennsylvania. Some of the officials, State Senator Wayne Fontana (D-42), State Senator Jay Costa (D-43) and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, spoke at the event.
Fontana, the father of a Duquesne alum, said it is a “worthy project” and “easy for me to support.”
Costa, who is a Duquesne School of Law alum and who had two children graduate from Duquesne, thanked Gov. Tom Wolf for the grant and called Chuck Cooper a “trailblazer.” Costa also suggested that the student section be renamed “The Coop” to audience applause.
In an interview with The Duke, Harper explained the timeline of the project.
“There’s two phases to the project. The first will begin in March 2019, and then the goal is to complete that phase by 2020,” he said. “Once we get settled in here and get everything back in, then we’ll look at starting the next phase that will take another 12-15 months.”
While the renovations are going on, Harper said the teams who use the space will find new locations.
“We’ll get as many [men’s basketball] games as possible as we can at PPG … then, if we have to, we’ll relocate,” to other neutral sites, he said. “The women’s team is about to finalize a location; we won’t say until it is finalized. The volleyball team will probably look at high schools. Our daily operations will relocate to other buildings on campus.”
Gormley praised Harper for the work he has done.
“You have to take a leap of faith at a certain point and we took that leap of faith with Dave Harper,” he said. “If you don’t shoot high and think big, you are going to continue to do small things, and that’s not what we set out to accomplish.”