Anyone who ever built a new home and prepared to host a housewarming party knows the stress as the debut draws near. Work crews are in & out, taking care of last-minute details great and small, with boxes and equipment everywhere, while you hope your new digs will WOW your soon-to-arrive guests so much they barely notice all the unfinished business.
Oh, and then imagine your confirmed guest list has 3,300 RSVPs!
Welcome to Suncoast Credit Union Arena, the new and nearly-complete $28 million multifaceted facility on the Thomas Edison (Lee County) Campus of Florida SouthWestern (FSW) State College near Summerlin Road and Cypress Lake Drive. It is home to the Buccaneers basketball teams as well as the volleyball program that begins play in 2018. These join baseball and softball that began last year to revive the school’s athletic programs that lay dormant since 1997. The first arena event — a women’s and men’s basketball doubleheader on Tuesday, November 29, at 6 & 8 p.m.
Mike Hill, FSW sports information director, says that “I have never yet built a house in my personal life, so to be here for the groundbreaking through the final product is a unique and emotional experience. The arena is the reason I took this job and it is great to finally walk through it without wearing a hardhat!”
Purple People Eaters
Once inside, you are awash in such a sea of purple, with hints of aqua, that it could make Barney the Dinosaur sick! Purple plastic chairs without cushions or beverage holders line the east and west sides, with bleacher seating behind each basket. While sparse, the seats are easily wide enough to comfortably hold the ever-expanding typical American fan’s backside. “We took a lot of things into account when designing the arena,” says Teresa Araque, FSW Director of Communications & Public Information Officer. “We want people to be comfortable when attending a game or event.”
The colorful basketball court features four palm trees subtly shaded into the floor on either side of the Buccaneers’ center logo. “We Are FSW” graces the suite-side boundary, with “Florida SouthWestern” along each baseline. In addition to being the sports information director, Mike designed the floor. “I requested the opportunity and the college gave me free rein. The palm trees provide our program a great splash and are relevant because Fort Myers is The City of Palms, and we host the City of Palms Classic. All the players love it, and love playing on it, but I am nervous about the general public’s reaction once we open.”
There are six skyboxes, three each on either side of the magnificent Presidents’ Box that straddles mid-court. Each has a kitchenette and refrigerator to accommodate roughly 10 people inside, as well as 9 seats with cushions and cup holders outside the box to enjoy the arena experience. The Presidents’ Box is roughly one-third larger than the others, with 22 adjacent seats.
Two Daktronics video displays are on the north and south walls that measure 10 feet high and 20 feet wide. They can show one large image or divide the screens into windows for live video, instant replays, statistics, animation, and sponsor messages. One hundred feet of ribbon displays are atop the east and west walls to supplement content on the main display boards as well to highlight sponsors. “It will be quite similar to an NBA experience,” says Teresa. “It’s pretty sophisticated.”
The upper-level Follett Hospitality Pavilion is a rentable space for up to 75 people, with an outside balcony and a glass wall that offers a stunning panoramic view of the court. Its inaugural event is a reception during the doubleheader for significant donors.
The lady Bucs basketball and volleyball teams share a dressing room suite – a central lounge bookended by the basketball team on the right and volleyball squad on the left, while the men have a single locker room adjacent to their lounge. “The visiting locker rooms are very basic, as we don’t want to give those teams anything special,” Mike says with a smile. “We want to keep our home court advantage as much as possible!”
No Mother Ship
Maybe the most obvious feature is one that is not here – there is no large hulking scoreboard hanging like the Mother Ship over center court – by design and a good thing. Having open space above the floor compliments the open-air design, offering a striking overhead view. “We did something different,” explains Mike. “There is a practicality to it as well. Once volleyball begins, volleyballs will not hit the scoreboard. Once concerts start, sight lines will be clear. Plus with a huge scoreboard hanging overhead, the temptation is to watch it rather than the action on the court.”
Amenities include the weight room, to open in January 2017 to all students and not just athletes. There are training rooms, ice baths, washers and dryers and competition courts that turn into recreational courts. Student, faculty and staff wellness areas as well as athletic department offices are all accommodated in the new building.
There is one special feature no one will ever see: “Many of us associated with the arena signed the final steel beam installed in the roof,” Teresa says nostalgically, “along with our own messages. Our president, Dr. Jeffery Allbritten, signed ‘Go Bucs’ next to his!”
She explains that “Suncoast Credit Union donated $5 million to Florida SouthWestern as the jumpstart to make this dream a reality. Their belief in us is exciting.”
The Missing Link
Patrick Leahy represents Professional Facilities Management that will book the facility. “This gives the Fort Myers market a first-class building in the seating range of 3,500 to 4,000, and that is just right between the small Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall and large Germain Arena. A lot of tour companies look for a stop between the Tampa and Miami areas, and this perfectly positions Suncoast as a good fit.”
Basketball tickets are as low as $8, with season tickets from $75 to $300. “There is literally not a bad seat in the house,” emphasizes Teresa. Students receive free admission to sit in the bleachers behind the baskets. Alumni association members and faculty receive a 20% discount, with the grand opening doubleheader sold out.
Florida SouthWestern State College is a member of the Florida College System Athletic Association as well as the National Junior College Athletic Association. The Buc basketball men compete in the Suncoast Conference, with the Women in the Southern Conference.
“The Suncoast Credit Union Arena is so much more than just an athletic site,” Teresa summarizes, “it’s Florida SouthWestern State College’s gift to our entire community. We celebrate this year as well the 30th anniversary of the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall so that makes everything extra special.” Experience this extra special feeling yourself soon with a visit to the Suncoast Credit Union Arena and FSW basketball.