Gophers fans share mixed views on Williams Arena improvements

Minnesota’s athletics dept. took steps to modernize the 84-year-old structure this offseason.
November 20, 2012

Joe Jurusik and Lonny Phernetton have attended Gophers men’s basketball games together for more than a decade.

Yet the two couldn’t disagree more on the future of the Gophers’ current home, Williams Arena.

“This place has such history,” Jurusik, 51, said from Section 108 of the arena. “Why would you want to lose that? It’s intimate.”

The debate about replacing Williams Arena has surfaced in every recent season, and Minnesota’s athletics department took steps this offseason to modernize the old structure.

The Gophers’ 84-year-old home got a face lift in the form of a new scoreboard, ribbon boards and sound system.

Next to Jurusik, his friend Phernetton, 50, a Williams Arena season-ticket holder for more than 30 years, stood watching the Gophers’ season-opener against American.

“I disagree,” Phernetton said. “I think it’s time [to replace it]. At a certain point you can’t keep putting money into something that’s old.”

Mariucci Arena, the Gophers men’s hockey arena, received the same upgrades for a combined $8 million, including the addition of a control center in TCF Bank Stadium that runs all of the new technology.

“For the mean time, these [upgrades] are nice,” Phernetton said. “It’s just time to replace [Williams Arena].”

Jurusik shot back.

“Not me, I love it,” he said. “They better not change it. These upgrades modernized it, and to me, it looks like a different arena.”

Cory Chapman, director of operations at Williams Arena, said in an email that all television screens in the lower bowl area were also replaced to help supplement the 1,161 obstructed-view seats in the arena.

The number of screens increased from 27 to 41, and all of the screens are 47 inches.

“I’ve heard a lot of positive things from fans,” Chapman said in a phone interview. “And rightfully so. … I’ve been told the improvements modernize the facility by 15 to 20 years.”

To help pay for the improvements, Williams and Mariucci Arenas instituted a preferred seating plan, charging fans $400, $250 or $100 to keep the best seats at Williams.

Jeanine Nelson, a 1970 alumnus of the University of Minnesota, said the improvements were nice on her eyes — but rough on her pocketbook. She said they don’t make up for paying more.

“We’re retirees — that’s a lot of money,” Nelson said.

Nelson and her husband Bruce bought season tickets in Section 116 — a $400 donation-per-seat area.

The Fridley, Minn., natives said they mulled over some $250-per-seat options, but they ultimately paid up because the more expensive seats were closer to center court.

Bruce Nelson said he doesn’t want The Barn — as it’s referred to colloquially — to be replaced, but he said attending a game comes with many difficulties.

“The bathrooms are few and far between. The concourse is terrible,” he said.

Jeanine Nelson said she’s wary of what a new arena would change for fans.

“You go to the Timberwolves, and you’re so far away,” she said. “It’s not like the intimacy of this.”

John Schwerkoske gave up his seats a few rows from courtside to move back to Section 119 — a $250-per-seat option.

He said his new seats provide a slightly obstructed view of the scoreboard, and he’ll always be looking to move closer if seats are open.

“I like the scoreboard ribbon system — but I like the band better than the digital sound,” he said. “I’d rather have the college effects.”

Schwerkoske received his graduate degree from Ohio State and said Williams Arena is too unique to replace entirely.

“I’ve seen others — and you just can’t lose the factor of the elevated floor,” he said. “It adds character.”

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