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UT Looks For Partner To Replace Erwin Center

UT Looks For Partner To Replace Erwin Center
Entrance to Frank Erwin Center

The University of Texas is seeking a private partner for a $350M replacement for the 40-year-old Frank Erwin Special Events Center.

The new facility would serve, first and foremost, as a venue for the University of Texas at Austin's men's and women's basketball games. But the Erwin Center over the last four decades also has hosted many of Austin's large-scale concerts, ice shows and graduations.

UT-Austin unveiled a venue master plan late last year, putting the basketball arena on the block south of the Mike Myers Track & Soccer Stadium. The block, which is at the intersection of Robert Dedman and Red River, currently serves as permit parking. The university refers to it as the Highway location.

“We don’t operate in a vacuum here,” then-interim men's Athletic Director Mike Perrin told the Alcalde alumni magazine. “It’s not like we have a blank check and authorization to go just build these things. It’s prudent management to look forward to anticipate needs that you’re going to have and how you might fulfill these needs in a physically constrained environment.”

The university put out its request for qualifications Friday to identify potential private partners that would develop, operate and maintain the proposed facility. The goal is to keep the university's financial investment in the arena to a minimum, according to the RFQ.

UT Looks For Partner To Replace Erwin Center
Parking lot south of Mike Myers Stadium

"The Texas Longhorns brand will be integrated into the building’s design, creating a facility that reflects the character, tradition and history of men’s and women’s basketball," according to the news release. "The new arena will be smaller and more intimate than the Erwin Center, designed with concourses that put the fan experience front and center."

Last week's RFQ added one more detail to last fall's announcement: a potential second site for the arena. The second suggested location, known as the Creek location in the RFQ, is the two partial blocks occupied by the Steve Hicks School of Social Work and the Recreational Sports Center.

Identifying an available block on campus, whether the Highway or Creek option, would allow UT to consolidate the university's football, soccer and basketball venues in a common on-campus location within blocks of each other. Baseball is played on university-owned land east of Interstate 35.

UT Looks For Partner To Replace Erwin Center
School of Social Work/Recreational Sports Center

According to the University of Texas' RFQ, which opened Feb. 2 and closes March 8, the university is soliciting a developer-operator for the facility. The preferred developer would have broad industry experience, agree to minimal financial participation on the part of the university, provide extensive professional and financial background on its team and provide financial assurances that the developer has access to at least $350M in capital.

The new arena is estimated to cost between $350M and $450M. Qualified developers will be determined by March 30.

The Frank Erwin Center sits at the mid-point of age for NCAA Division I basketball arenas in the Big 12 conference. The 16,300 seats are on par with Kansas State University.

A smaller, more intimate venue for basketball, with fewer seats, as requested by the RFQ, could pain Austin's music scene by removing a large-scale music venue for Austin. 

Campus lore says the Erwin Center was born from booster Frank Erwin's desire for a venue twice the size of the Gregory Gym on campus, according to a recent anniversary feature in Austin Monthly. At the time it opened in 1977, it was dubbed "UT's Astrodome." It has hosted large concerts since. 

Now the university's programs will be consolidated and the land on which the Erwin Center sits will be turned over to Dell Medical School. The former Brackenridge Hospital site also will be redeveloped, creating a health district that stretches across multiple blocks.