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Home Sweet Home?

November 18, 1999

Carol Schlueter

The Tulane men’s basketball program was singing “Downtown” in the early 1990s but this year’s tune is sounding more like “Home Sweet Home.” The green-hued New Orleans Arena, nearing completion beside the Superdome, was to be the future home of the men’s basketball team. At least, that was the plan when the Louisiana Legislature approved the 20,000-seat stadium in 1993.

But for several reasons, Tulane and arena officials have reconsidered that plan. University administrators are now weighing a scaled-back plan that would keep most games on campus in Fogelman Arena. The management company for the new downtown arena, SMG, recently proposed a three-year agreement in which Tulane would play a minimum of six and a maximum of 10 men’s basketball games downtown starting this fall.

Tony Lorino, senior vice president for operations and chief financial officer, calls the downtown proposal “an opportunity.” It will be taken up by the Tulane Board of Administrators in April or May. “It gives us an opportunity to explore what it’s like to play downtown and see what we can do with it,” Lorino said. “If we make it work, we might be inclined to move more games there. If it doesn’t work, we will be inclined to stay where we are.”

“The arena proposal we are considering,” said Tulane President Scott Cowen, “keeps Fogelman as the home base of the basketball program while allowing us to experiment with a new venue for some games to see how this may fit with the longer-term needs of the program.”

Lorino points out that staying “where we are” in 1933-vintage Fogelman is working well with current basketball fortunes. Fogelman, with a capacity of 3,500 seats, has rarely been filled in recent years. Earlier this decade, however, when the new arena was planned, Tulane’s basketball program was on a roll and additional seating was needed to provide the program with the opportnity to grow. Moving to the $110-million downtown arena “is an attractive alternative” in terms of building additional fan support and attracting more competitive teams, Lorino said.

“That alternative needs to be evaluated, as well as the possibility of expanding Fogelman Arena,” he added.

“Ideally,” said Cowen, “it would be desirable to keep all of our sports teams on or very near the campus. This makes it most convenient for our students and for others who live and work in and around the campus. It also adds to the unity and excitement of campus life.”

Another factor in the university’s decision has to do with the history of the arena. Initially, when the project was promoted to the state legislature, Tulane expected to be included in the downtown arena project as an investor-an equity partner who would share in revenues not only from Tulane games but from all events held at the arena. That arrangement never materialized.

Arena officials now say they don’t need anyone to pump cash into the project, which also led to the alternative proposal now on the table. New Orleans’ minor league hockey team, the New Orleans Brass, is negotiating an agreement to play all its home games in the new arena. It is also designed for concerts, professional wrestling matches, ice shows and circuses, although arena officials have expressed hopes for hosting arena football and NBA games in the future.

According to Lorino, the new arena proposal provides the basketball program with an opportunity to explore the potential for expanding attendance and participation at selective key home games, without exposing the university to substantial economic risk. “Under the circumstances, it’s the best position we could be in,” he said.

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