SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Missouri State University and hotel magnate John Q. Hammons announced plans Friday to build a $60 million, on-campus basketball arena, less than two months after the school eliminated five sports in a cost-saving move.
But university president Michael T. Nietzel was quick to say the two are unrelated.
"We made it very clear that we would prioritize our athletic programs, and Mr. Hammons has made it very clear what his priorities are," Nietzel said. "I'm very comfortable with the decision."
After being hired July 1, one of Nietzel's first steps was to create a special committee that recommended the university cut men's indoor and outdoor track, men's cross country and men's and women's tennis. Facing potential state budget cuts, the Missouri State board of governors unanimously approved the proposal in December, saving the university an estimated $350,000 to $500,000 annually.
Despite objections by athletes and community members, Nietzel continues to defend the university's decision -- even as it begins construction of its new basketball arena.
"We couldn't afford the operation of 21 teams," Nietzel said. "This has nothing to do with that whatsoever."
JQH Arena will include at least 12,000 chair-back seats, 20 private boxes, a private club and other amenities. Hammons committed $25 million toward the project, which will begin construction this fall and is scheduled to be completed by November 2008.
"I wanted the university to be able to build a facility that would live up to its new name, that would be a magnet for Springfield, and that would make all of us proud," Hammons said at a news conference announcing the plans.
Hammons is a Missouri State alumnus whose company, John Q. Hammons Hotels & Resorts, is based in Springfield. It operates 62 hotels in 22 states.
"It's a very large project," Nietzel said, "the largest gift in the university's history. And one of the largest gifts in the state of Missouri's history. It's a signature project with respect to facilities."
The new arena would meet the minimum seating requirements to host NCAA first- and second-round postseason tournament games.