As construction of the new, ultra-green University of South Carolina business school takes shape at Assembly and Greene streets, the 44-year-old Carolina Coliseum next door awaits an uncertain future.
USC’s Colonial Life Arena became Columbia’s main sports and entertainment venue a decade ago. And the two schools in the coliseum’s basement are slated to leave the facility soon. That has university leaders weighing what to do with the iconic downtown building.
“This is one of the state’s most important intersections,” USC president Harris Pastides said. “We are committed to reuse of the building. I would hate to not take time and think about what we can do there.”
Pastides wants to gather a group of university and community leaders to discuss potential new uses for the coliseum – ranging from classrooms to office space.
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“I would not take anything off the table,” he said. “But if there can’t be a use found, it could be torn down.”
The coliseum was built in 1968 for $8.5 million, the equivalent of $56 million today. The arena spurred the heyday of USC basketball under legendary coach Frank McGuire, who led the Gamecocks to four NCAA tournament appearances and an Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title.
For years, the building also was the major concert hall in Columbia, hosting Elvis Presley, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John and the Bee Gees.
But the $64 million, 18,000-seat Colonial Life Arena opened in 2002 and supplanted the 12,000-seat coliseum. The last sports team to use the building regularly, the minor-league Columbia Inferno hockey team, left in 2008.
‘Serves a good function’
Today, the arena is making more money without hockey, coliseum director Sid Kenyon said.
While it plays host to mostly university and community events, small concerts and high school graduations, the coliseum also has been used by several musical tours – including the Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, Lil Wayne and the Zac Brown Band – to test staging and lighting before those groups spend months on the road. That work can generate from $80,000 to $100,000, taking from one to three weeks and employing 80 people to help load gear, Kenyon said.
The coliseum generates about $200,000 in annual revenue, Kenyon said.
That’s up from about $50,000 a year during the time when the Inferno was a tenant. The hockey team tied up dates and, under their agreement with the school, were not paying rent, Kenyon said.
The coliseum is filled about 150 days a year with a wide array of events, including job fairs, state political conventions, cheerleading events, religious groups, fundraising galas and student concerts, one featuring country musician Josh Turner.
School officials are working with the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism to win more business for the facility, especially groups that want arena seating.
Kenyon said he also is trying to get more sporting events, including small-college conference basketball tournaments that might not boycott the state over the Confederate flag on the State House grounds.
“The coliseum serves a good function to the community,” Kenyon said. “But it’s up to the people at the university to make the determination about the best use for the space.”
Convert it to classrooms?
The basement of the coliseum now holds some of the largest academic space on USC’s Columbia campus, housing its College of Mass Communications and Information Studies, and its College of Hospitality, Retail and Sports Management.
But both schools, with 3,600 students, are slated for new homes.
Mass Communications is scheduled to move to the Health Sciences Building on Sumter Street, near the Horseshoe, in 2015.
The hotel school is earmarked to slide into the building that now houses USC’s law school after a new law building is completed. No date has been set for the new law school, though USC received $10 million in this year’s state budget for the new building.
The new $106.5 million Darla Moore School of Business building next to the coliseum will open at the end of 2013.
USC trustee Eddie Floyd, a member of the board’s athletics committee, said he would like to see the entire coliseum converted into classrooms.
Enrollment at the Columbia campus has mushroomed 22 percent in the past decade as the school added nearly 5,600 students, according to state agency figures.
“We need a place to house more students,” Floyd said. “It will take a lot of money, and I don’t know where we will get the money from.”