July 24, 2006 — The University of Virginia's new John Paul Jones Arena had its coming out party with a special tour for media on Friday followed by a community Open House that saw more than 13,000 people explore the facility on Saturday.
After more than 34 months of construction, the arena's official opening is Aug. 1 with a performance by Cirque Du Soleil.
"We are delighted with the turnout and the response that we have been getting," Larry Wilson, general manager of the arena, said on Saturday as he stood in the lobby amid the crowds of sightseers.
For more than four hours, a steady stream of visitors walked along the concourses, tested the sightlines from the 16,000 seats, visited the men's basketball offices, toured one of the suites, and tasted the complimentary hot dogs from one of the 54 concession stands.
As Wilson and others had predicted during the media event on Friday, the building does speak for itself.
Some of the most animated conversations among the visitors focused on the impressive technology apparent in the 157 flat screen televisions scattered throughout the building as well as the Diamond Vision on the massive scoreboard hanging over the center of the basketball court.
During the media preview on Friday, Wilson restated a commitment to make the lineup of entertainment events as diverse as possible.
Leonard W. Sandridge Jr., the University's executive vice president and chief operating officer, also underscored that commitment in his remarks to the media.
"We hope that there will be something for everyone," Sandridge said. "We believe that John Paul Jones Arena will add to the image of our community as a place where cultural events are readily available. In the first year alone, we believe that we will be able to bring easily a half-million to 600,000 people here to attend events, and that will have a tremendous benefit for our local community and tourism for this area."
Sandridge paid tribute to the willing of the Board of Visitors and President John T. Casteen Jr. to take the risk necessary to make the project a reality. In addition, he cited the "extraordinary encouragement" of donors to the arena.
"We are on track to make this project a financial success as well as an entertainment success," said Sandridge, observing that the facility has been financed entirely with private and self-generated money.
"We believe that this is a facility that is appropriate for the University of Virginia grounds," said Sandridge. "You know that place is important here at the University of Virginia. We are built on a tradition of believing that our facilities add value. We believe that this facility adds great value."
Jon Oliver, executive associate athletics director, added that the facility offers an "incredible opportunity for our basketball programs."
Said Oliver: "Our coaches now will be able to recruit and develop the best possible student athletes. When we think about our goals for the athletic department over the next 10 years, we talk about winning championships. This building will be a cornerstone for that effort."
In addition to Cirque Du Soleil, events already announced for the arena include World Wrestling Entertainment, James Taylor, The Wiggles, Kenny Chesney, the Dave Mathews Band, Eric Clapton, Disney on Ice, Martha's Market, Diversity Career Day, Larry the Cable Guy, Lipizzaner Stallions, and Ringley Bros. Circus.