Should $125 million be spent on the Carolina Coliseum?

The Carolina Coliseum, back when you could see it from the north side.

The Carolina Coliseum, back when you could see it from the north side.

I think I entered the Carolina Coliseum for the first time in late summer, 1971. The building was only about three years old then.

The occasion was the “Jesus Christ Superstar” tour. This was long before it was either a play or a movie. The album had come out a few months before, and this was a touring group that performed the music concert-style. It featured Yvonne Elliman, from the original album, as Mary Magdalene.

Great show, even without anyone really acting out the story. You youngsters have to realize we were into listening to albums with our eyes closed and headphones on in those days. In fact, the first time I heard the album, this girl named Mary (Riley, not Magdalene) was lying on her back listening to it on the floor of a beach house that a mutual friend’s family had rented at Barber’s Point on Oahu, with the stereo’s speakers positioned either side of her head, inches from her ears. I don’t recall what I thought of the music at that point because a large part of my brain was occupied just looking at Mary.

Then, a few weeks later, I was back in the Coliseum for registration for the fall, my one and only semester at USC. This involved shuffling around from queue to queue signing up for one class at a time, holding these long computer punchcards in our hands. I think the way it worked was when you signed up for a class, you were given a punchcard for that course and section. Then when you were done, you handed in your small deck of cards, and someone fed them into a computer and presto, you had a schedule.

It was the first time I ever had anything to do with computers (I don’t think I saw a hand-held calculator for another year or two), and I was impressed. It all felt very space-age. Which is a term we used to use for “modern,” in the days when we thought the moon was but the beginning of manned exploration of space.

So, you know, this was a while ago.

It cost $8.5 million to build the Coliseum in 1968 (which would be more than $57 million today). The new Moore School going up next to it has a price tag of $106.5 million.

Now, there is a proposal to renovate the Coliseum for $125 million:

Plans call for turning the 12,000-seat arena into classrooms and labs, a one-stop shop of student services, an adjunct student union and a practice facility for the Gamecock basketball teams.

To quote that revered academic Dr. Peter Venkman, “It just seems a little pricey for a unique fixer-upper opportunity, that’s all.”

But that’s just a first, gut reaction. Perhaps a case can be made for it. What do y’all think?

20 thoughts on “Should $125 million be spent on the Carolina Coliseum?

  1. Silence

    I don’t think this project makes sense for $125M.
    1) The basketball team is already practicing somewhere, any regulation basketball court would work for this.
    2) What is the average cost per classroom seat at USC? That is, what does it cost to build capacity in a standard academic building?
    3) Same question for lab space. What does it cost to build a lab?
    4) What does office space (student services) go for in Columbia? Maybe 10 bucks/sf? Probably construct it for 100/sf?
    My guess is that you could build the same amount of lab space, classroom space, and office space that would be gained here for much less money. The basketball practice facility isn’t needed.

  2. John

    Based on a comparison vs the new business school space it looks like a good buy. That building is claiming ~ 250,000 sq/ft for 107 M for a total of $425 sqft; the Coliseum is looking for ~125 M for about 485,000 sqft for ~ $260 sq/ft. That comparison makes it look reasonable.

      1. John

        Sorry, total is the only number I have.

        If it was only aesthetics I would say let if fall down, it’s an ugly piece of work. It’s a shame the city hasn’t invested in the South Main-Assembly area like they have up north of the capitol building.

  3. Norm Ivey

    The money should only be spent if the equivalent space cannot be built/remodeled elsewhere for less. It seems to me you’d likely be better off with new construction just because of advances in engineering and technology over the last 40 years. I have many fond memories of the place, but it’s no historic landmark worthy of retrofitting.

    I thought I had completely erased the memories of those registration days. You stood in line for hours–outside on concrete in August–and then you hoped the classes you needed were still open by the time you got there. The horror! The horror!

    1. bud

      I’m with Kathryn. There is more to this than a nuts and bolts assessment of cost efficiency. The coliseum is the most visually attractive building in Columbia. Plus the cost does seem competitive. I say keep it. It would be money much better spent than that ugly BA building going up next door.

      1. Rose

        It’s a circular maze down there in the classroom areas. Perhaps making that awkward classroom more practical is adding to the price tag. While it is an iconic building in Columbia, I wouldn’t consider it the most visually attractive building in the city. On the Horseshoe alone, the South Caroliniana Library, McCutchen House, and McKissick Museum are far more attractive. Longstreet Theatre, too.
        If you knock down the Coliseum, where will all those high schools hold graduation?

          1. Rose

            Apparently many high schools don’t have facilities large enough to hold all of the graduates and their families. June at the Coliseum is packed with HS graduations.

    2. Mark Stewart

      Iconic? Iconic of what? It is inefficient, obsolescent dreck. End of story.

      Save the AgFirst bldg. This one is not deserving of saving – and certainly not of the expense of repurposing.

  4. Bryan Caskey

    There’s not much sentimental value in the coliseum for me. I’d like to see the numbers on what it would cost to knock it down and build something on top vs. the proposed renovations. If the new building going up next door is $106M by comparison, maybe it’s more cost-effective to knock it down and start over.

    Bottom line, let’s make decisions based on dollar and cents, rather than on sentimental value. The University has plenty of historical buildings. The Coliseum doesn’t make the top 5. Heck, the Coliseum isn’t anywhere to be found on the USC website. I spent about 5 minutes looking around and couldn’t find it.

    1. Juan Caruso

      Agree with you. The USC colliseum is no Colloseum and quite short on historical significance. However, neither does Clemson U’s (Obama shot boyhood hoops in neither facility).

      To be fair and objective in an era of rising tuitions and taxpayer belt-tightenings, Haley should run the decision by a joint commitee of Clemson and USC archeology departments and obtain concurrence from their respective finance departments.

      Otherwise, how about asking the fans (including legislators) who attend such barnyard games fund it.

  5. Dave Crockett

    I spent 3.5 years walking that circular maze of classrooms, a tiny TV studio and the studios of WUSC-FM as a broadcast journalism major, the first two dodging Assembly Street traffic coming down from the now-gone Snowden Dorm before a pedestrian underpass was finally put in. Class registration there was quite a challenging affair, too. I doubt there’s much more usable space for additional classrooms and the peripheral location is certainly not ideal for any kind of student services/student union facility as far as I can see. And the basketball team seems to have adequate facilities elsewhere these days.

    I don’t live in the Columbia area, but I’d think there might be better use for $125M than trying to squeeze more life out of the Coliseum.

  6. Brad Warthen Post author

    It’s interesting to me that several of y’all consider the building to be aesthetically appealing. That would not have occurred to me.

    I could come up with arguments for keeping it, but beauty would not be one of them.

  7. Mark Stewart

    It’s hardly a good looking building. Monumental, yes, in that 1960’s echo of historicism kind of way.

    The Moore School is what I don’t get – the architecture apes the Coliseum, as if the architects’ felt that they had to reinforce the prominence of the Coliseum. I thought that was oddly like putting the cart before the horse.

    The Coliseum is banal, to me. Too bad someone back in the early 60’s chickened out and didn’t go with the original brutalist design. I generally don’t like those, but the plan for the Coliseum would have made it look like some prehistoric pile. It would have had character and soul – neither of which it does as built.


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