There will be tipoffs and slam dunks and spikes, but the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s new arena also represents the continued maturation of the college as an anchor institution in Maryland.
Beyond the sports implications of the $85 million UMBC Event Center, the university hopes it can use the arena and the events that come with it to attract people who would not ordinarily find the school’s isolated Catonsville campus.
“It really ends up becoming a particularly important building that’s accessible to our neighbors, our faculty, our alums,” said Gregory Simmons, UMBC’s vice president for institutional advancement. “We’re only as strong as the students and the faculty and the guests who visit this campus on a regular basis.”
For the university, the arena will be a place that brings people to the campus, whether it is for concerts, expos, banquets or, finally, spring commencement.
For the first time in decades, the university will be able to hold its spring graduation on campus. Recently it has been held at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore because the Retriever Activity Center (RAC) was too small.
UMBC has grown steadily over its 52 years in existence, a time period that is relatively short for a research university. When it opened, the university enrolled less than 1,000 students. Its expansion continues to be rapid.
In the fall of 2006, the university had 8,792 full-time students. Ten years later in 2016, the latest year for which data is available, the university enrolled 10,651 full-time students, a more than 22 percent increase.
Through its short existence, the university has been known for its computer and engineering graduates, becoming a significant feeder institution for Maryland’s cybersecurity economy.
Four years ago, UMBC opened the Performing Arts and Humanities Building, which includes theater and concert spaces. It was a place that could make the university’s alumni proud, Simmons said. The hope is that the new arena can do the same thing.
Of course, one way that happens is through athletics. The arena will be home to the UMBC men’s basketball, women’s basketball and women’s volleyball teams. The men’s team will officially open the arena Saturday against the University of Vermont.
Team officials hope the arena helps improve recruitment and that an improving men’s basketball team will raise the profile of the university as it has at George Mason University, Gonzaga University and Wichita State University.
“If you look at schools similar to us … it’s helped raise the profile of the whole institution,” said Tim Hall, the school’s athletic director. “This building and (men’s basketball coach Ryan Odom) are what are going to separate us from the pack here.”
But there will be other events at the arena that could bring in the outside world as well.
The Harlem Globetrotters will perform at the arena next month and three concerts have been booked. The arena’s size and features mean the facility will be able to attract national concert tours, the type that might have been too big for the RAC, but would not fill up a Royal Farms Arena or Capital One Center.
The new arena can hold 5,500 seats for a concert and Oak View Group Facilities, which manages the building, anticipates hosting about 15 concerts a year. The building has also booked banquets and hopes to book expos in the near future.