Eau Claire (WQOW) -- UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt says discussions about replacing Zorn Arena have been going on for decades
When Zorn Arena was built in 1951, the university's enrollment was around 750. Now, it's more than 11,000.
However, Zorn's capacity for events remains at 3,500...just like it was back then.
A new events center on campus is not exactly a new idea. In the November 29, 1971 edition of Sports Illustrated, there's a story about UWEC basketball that talks about a potential new arena for the Blugolds. Zorn Arena was only 20 years old in 1971.
"At the time when Zorn Arena was at its peak, it was the place to be," says UW-Eau Claire Director of Athletics Dan Schumacher, "and by having a new arena, it sets us apart from any of the other competition, there won't be an events center or arena to play basketball like this, it really sets us apart from a recruiting standpoint."
Zorn Arena has a rich history. There have been visits by sitting two vice presidents and presidential candidates, along with concerts, graduations, and of course, plenty of exciting basketball. But selling tradition to recruits can be tough.
"I think in this day and age, people are looking for bigger and better things," says UWEC men's basketball coach Matt Siverling, "especially high school kids that are coming from some high school gyms and facilities that are better than Zorn."
Also tough: playing on a floor that doesn't have a lot of give.
"Well, that's the original floor that we're playing on," says UWEC women's basketball coach Tonja Englund, "that is the original floor from when the facility was put in, so you're talking about close to a 65-year old basketball floor. I'm obviously a coach who aspires to, you bet, let's have a bigger arena, let's pack it."
So, how do you pack a bigger arena, when attendance at Zorn Arena has declined in recent years?
"Come on now, winning is everything," says Schumacher.
"I think you have to win," Siverling says, "this new facility is really going to help us get to the next level."
While it's unclear at this point what the seating capacity of the basketball configuration will be at the new County Materials Event and Recreation Complex, Schumacher says that the goal is to fill the place.
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