Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade said she was impressed by the clean, fresh aroma when she stepped inside the new Henrico Sports & Events Center.
“It’s almost like when you say, ‘a new car smell.’ Well, this is a new arena smell, and it’s really nice,” McGlade said Thursday in an interview with ESPN’s Angel Gray at the conference’s Media Day event.
In addition to previewing the A-10’s women’s basketball season, the showcase represented the first event held in the 185,000-square-foot facility, which is located just off Interstate 95 at Virginia Center Commons.
Gray joked that she’d wondered whether hard hats might be needed and called the massive facility “absolutely stunning” and “state of the art.”
Henrico County built the $50 million facility through an agreement with the Rebkee Co., which is redeveloping the former Virginia Center Commons mall property. The A-10 will hold its Women’s Basketball Championship at the Sports & Events Center in March 2024 and 2025. In total, more than 42 organizations have scheduled 185 dates, including tournaments, practices, meetings and other events, through 2024.
Dennis Bickmeier, executive director of the Henrico Sports & Entertainment Authority, said workers were still painting areas of the building late Wednesday.
“It’s been a race to the finish line, and we’re actually not all the way to the finish line,” he said. “I think we’re coming out of turn four, and we can see it.”
“It’s just been just an amazing team effort. It’s not just all the outside contractors that have been working on this building. It’s just the spirit of everybody in the county to pitch in,” Bickmeier added, praising many departments and officials. “You hear a lot about the Henrico Way and the spirit of the people that have chipped in to get this building to where it is today. They’re living the Henrico Way, that’s for sure.”
Coaches, players and media echoed praise for the Sports & Events Center, noting such details as its bright lighting, shiny hardwood floor and fast internet connection.
“This facility is just a beautiful, really well-lit facility that you can see is going to be just a fantastic venue for the Atlantic 10 Women’s Basketball Championships, but also for other events that the community will put on,” Duquesne Head Coach Dan Burt said. “I have a sixth grade son, who I’m sure will be down here for AAU basketball events. It’s arguably the nicest facility I’ve seen, and we’re still in some construction mode here, but you can see the potential for this. I’m really excited about being here in March and probably being back in April and May with my son.”
Asked her initial impression of the building, Rhode Island Head Coach Tammi Reiss responded, “Absolutely gorgeous.”
“But then once you enter, it’s got everything you’re looking for for a tournament and giving the student athletes the experience they deserve when they go to a tournament – so proper locker rooms, proper concessions, unbelievable seating and a fan experience,” she said. “And so, there’s nothing better than having a place that wants you and promoting the A-10, so I couldn’t be any happier. I’m so glad the A-10 made this decision.”
“First impressions: I immediately thought it was a beautiful building,” said Bre Bellamy, a graduate student forward for Massachusetts. “I love the setup. … The overall feeling, I think, is just going to provide a good neutral site for the teams. Even like the back facilities are very well set up, well organized. I’m excited to play here in March. The area itself is also very nice, so that’s good, too. Yeah, I’m just excited. It’s a beautiful building. I’m glad they got it done in time.”
Maddie Dziezgowski, a senior guard/forward for St. Bonaventure, said the building’s newness added to the excitement of Media Day.
“I’m excited, and the building is great,” she said. “It’s cool that we’re the first big event that the sports center has held, and I’m really excited to get to play here in the A-10 tournament.”
St. Bonaventure Head Coach Jim Crowley said he was impressed by the arena’s lighting, magnitude and location off I-95.
“It’s just the great lighting and space. You don’t feel crowded by it,” he said. “I think being in this location and the accessibility … you’re not stuck down in the middle of a city. I’m really excited to be here.”
In a radio interview with ESPN Richmond 106.1 FM, Tom Yeager, who oversees business development for the Sports & Entertainment Authority, said the facility’s size and versatility make it attractive for a wide variety of events. In addition to its 3,500-seat arena, the facility includes separate courts where teams will be able to warm up before games. Yeager, a retired commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association, also said the facility will complement the planned 17,000-seat arena at GreenCity, which is being pitched as a potential site for even larger NCAA and professional events.
ESPN Richmond host “Big Al” Coleman noted the center’s potential for spurring activity and development. “There’s the old saying ‘from little acorns do great oaks grow,’” he said. “… This thing’s gonna just grow and grow and grow, isn’t it?”