GCU basketball teams getting a new 5,000-seat home

Bob Machen worked for the Phoenix Suns for 37 years and was very involved in the construction of US Airways Center where the Suns play.  He also had a hand in the construction of Chase Field, where the Diamondbacks play.

Now he’s sharing what he learned to help Grand Canyon University build the centerpiece of the school’s $60 million expansion plan – a 5,000-seat Event Center that will be the new home of the Antelope basketball teams.

The groundbreaking ceremonies were held last Friday, as over 300 GCU staff and guests gathered to celebrate what the college is calling a “rebirth of the campus.”

Machen is a local boy who moved to Arizona back in the ’50s and went to Scottsdale High School and then on to Arizona State.  He was working as a consultant when GCU hired him to oversee the construction of the facility, which will be situated on the southeastern edge of the campus.

That location makes it very visible from the high-traffic Camelback Road, serving as a notice to the community that the Christian school which was close to bankruptcy just six years ago is rising like the mythical Phoenix.  It has an  online enrollment of about 43,000, but its on-campus numbers have almost doubled in just the last couple of years and are projected to be a around 6,000 students by 2013.

And the next wave of expansion projects, which is scheduled for completion in 2013, will include new athletic fields.

But the Event Center is the crown jewel.  The 135,000-square-foot facility, one of four buildings in the expansion, will host basketball games, but will also be used for other mid-size sporting events, musical performances, and speaking engagements and conferences.

So the architectural design had to take into account the need for a loud, raucous environment when the GCU men’s and women’s basketball teams take the floor – but at other times it will need to capture the acoustic mood of a concert.  That will be accomplished by the use of movable acoustics.

That’s where Architekton, a Tempe architectural firm, comes in.  They are partnering with 360 Architecture of Kansas City to bring a wealth of experience to the project.

The Kansas firm has designed numerous sports facilities, including American Airlines Arena in Miami, the Sprint Center in Kansas City, and the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey.

Then GCU picked a general contractor with similar credentials.  Pirini Building Company built America West Arena in downtown Phoenix.

But Machen’s job is to pull it all together.  He’ll just need to downsize his thinking a little.

When Machen was in the design phase of America West Arena (now US Airways Center), he and Suns owner, Jerry Colangelo, logged a lot of miles traveling to just about every NBA arena to see how others had done it.

Now he is applying that same approach at the college level.  The Event Center design has been influenced by visits to other college facilities such as the Bren Events Center at the University of California at Irvine, the Jenny Craig Pavilion at the University of San Diego, and the Galen Center at USC.

The architects, for example, have applied the creative use of natural daylight that was a part of the Galen Center.  Through the use of an abundance of glass in the exterior, passers-by will be able to see into the arena from the outside.

One other goal the University officials gave the architects: the facility couldn’t look like anything else in the Valley.

Let’s hope that doesn’t mean we’re about to get another “flying saucer” design like the new stadium the Arizona Cardinals now call home.

Those design ideas need to stay in Glendale.

(Rendering courtesy of GCU)