City leaders joined UT Arlington officials in officially opening the College Park Center on Wednesday.
A double-header featuring the UT Arlington’s men’s and women’s basketball teams against UT San Antonio served as the public’s first chance to get a look into the $78 million, 7,000-seat arena.
Victories over the Roadrunners were hardly the only reason for the party.
“I thought it would never get here,” said Mayor Robert Cluck, outfitted in a Mavericks blue shirt emblazoned with the words “Celebrate College Park.” The shirts were handed out to everybody who had a ticket.
“I remember four years ago [UTA President] Jim Spaniolo and I went to Austin to talk to the board of regents [about constructing the arena]. They had never seen a partnership like we have here.”
The multipurpose facility is part of the 20-acre College Park District that includes residential and retail development, a 4.62-acre green space, and a 1,800-vehicle parking garage.
The development is also expected to have a residual boost to the revitalization of Dowtown Arlington.
The arena will serve as the leading event facility for downtown. In addition to serving as the home to UT Arlington’s indoor athletic teams, the arena will also host signature entertainment events, such as Grammy-nominated artist Drake, who is scheduled to perform March 2.
The grand opening Wednesday was the culmination of decades worth of hoping. The university was about to break ground on a new arena in the 1970s before the funding fell through.
“It’s been too long [in the making],” Cluck said.
The arena is a joint development of the city, the university, and the Tarrant County Commissioner’s Court.
The doors opened at 5 p.m., and a grand-opening ceremony featured the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, band music, and the Maverick Wranglers, a new school spirit team.
“You know, Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore,” university President James Spaniolo said in remarks to the crowd, referring to the difference between Texas Hall, the former sports home of the Mavericks, and College Park Center.
“This is our most important asset,” Cluck said of the university. “We’ll do anything to make sure they succeed. They feel the same about the city. The more this thrives, the more downtown Arlington will thrive. It’s good for all of us.”
Mayor Tom Vandergriff was a driving force in fostering the partnership with the university during his tenure as the city’s top government official from 1951-77.
“This would be a piece of heaven for him, for sure,” said Victor Vandergriff, the former mayor’s son, during the women’s game. “What he wouldn’t be doing right now is talking with you. He would be down there watching the girls play. He was a die-hard UTA supporter. He spent, I can’t remember, how many hundreds or thousands of games watching them at the old place. He did for decades.”
By John Henry
Photo by/Sharon Ellman