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Mavericks Fondly Remember the Opening of UTA College Park Center

(by Amy J. Schultz)  Sometimes you're given an unexpected gift. This week, Downtown Arlington gave me the gift of asking me to write a story about the 10th anniversary of the College Park Center. All I had to do was post the following on my Facebook page, and the love came roaring in:

What do you remember most about the experience of seeing the UTA College Park Center for the first time? And if you were involved in making it all happen, please share a fond memory.

"It was one of the highlights of my time at UTA. There was so much work and vision put into the college park concept and the celebration for the CPC opening was filled with pride and excitement and oh so much energy!"  - Molly Albart    

"It was a fast-paced, exciting journey to get the College Park Center built and opened (in such a magnificent way)!"  - Sharon Carey

"I wrote the orchestra and jazz band arrangement of Tim Ishii's composition that was featured that day. Conducted by Clif Evans. An amazing experience!"  - Dan Cavanagh

"It was fun to see the excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd at the first game. Definitely a big shift from when I would sometimes be one of only a few people for some of the games at Texas Hall! I also really enjoyed being on the first Homecoming court at the CPC and the celebration that went into making Homecoming a bigger deal on campus."  - Rebekah Karth Chojnacki

"College Park Center was still being built, but there was a night where Maverick Club members only were able to go and pick our own seats in the arena. After choosing my seats -- I still have season tickets and the same seats -- I went and sat on the floor seats and looked around and thought, wow, finally! Then on the night of our first game, I sat in my seat before the game, looked around and thought...THIS IS OURS. I'm not visiting another university, this is actually ours, this is UTA's arena. I was so proud and as sappy as it sounds, I cried happy tears."  - Elsa Corral 

"First off, let's never forget the big role UTA President Nedderman played in envisioning an arena, as well as President Witt, with a big thanks to President Spaniolo for pushing it across the finish line. But that night... the energy in the arena opening night was not just the typical energy that’s in the opening night at any new facility, anywhere. The staff who planned it did a wonderful job of making it magical. The biggest moment was when UTA’s young players and their coaches emerged from the tunnel, amid the smoke, the music, the fireworks and the resounding cheers. I felt tears running down my cheeks for them and all the teams and coaches before. When I tried to discreetly wipe the tears from my eyes, I glanced to either side of me and tears were flowing everywhere. It was the moment the University really came together as one, and I firmly believe it started a new spirit and cohesiveness that continues today. Academics are the soul of the University and athletics are the heart, and that night UTA’s heart swelled."  - Donna Darovich

"This is adjacent to your question, but in the time it was under construction my son was in preschool at First Presbyterian. At least once a week we would stop on the way home from work/school to see the progress. When we went to events there one it opened, we’d recall watching it being built. An important part of my work life and his childhood."  - Rebecca Deen

"I was living in Arlington Hall as College Park Center was constructed, so it was surreal to walk inside and think about how this had been a big hold in the ground not that long before. That first night I remember watching VIPs stream in the door, the growing noise level and excitement, then James Spaniolo triumphantly coming onto the court. It felt like a truly momentous occasion, and I was thrilled to be there when it happened! I was also happy to be a part of the first class to graduate in the new facility, but I enjoyed even more bringing my boys back a few years later for their first basketball games. It's a great place to watch a game!"  - J.C. Derrick

"I remember attending that event, and it was as much fun as everyone says. I have to say that as a gardener and one who appreciates the campus landscaping, especially east of Cooper, that they did some great work around that area, with all of the xeriscape and stones and gravel. It's wonderful to drive past the outside of that area also."  - Maggie Dwyer

"There were so many magical memories associated with the extravaganza of the Opening of the College Park Center! The long awaited opening involved much event planning and the dedication of many staff and students. From Ground Breakings, to Ribbon Cuttings to the UTA Marching Band parading through the outdoor tent, to the Roof Top Cocktail parties and meeting Maverick Speaker, Seth Meyers to watching the outdoor parades and festivities! Inside the Center the crowd noise was deafening with all of the excitement of the first Basketball game, with fireworks and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders! There were so many UTA and community folks working together. And I was so proud to be one of them!!"  - Susan English

"It was during our prime at UTA! I mostly remember the giant contrast between being at the last basketball game at Texas Hall, on a literal stage, to then being able to pick our seats for season tickets in the CPC. The excitement and wide-eyes we had being able to be a part of a new era of the university was something I will not forget. It was like someone finally turned on the light switch for UTA athletics and student life."  - Rebecca Esposito

"It felt like the shift UTA had been looking for for so long. It was big and bold - and signaled new traditions for so many of us. I attended opening ceremonies as a Student Affairs staffer (Student Pubs), so I remember the awe The Shorthorn staff had beforehand on the official behind-the-scenes tour - being the first to see something is something they haven't forgotten. As an alumna ('03 in Texas Hall) at my first game at CPC, the energy was awesome. Then later, when I got to work graduations there, the building transformed into this home for all the emotions - joy, pride, relief, excitement, a little sadness for the students about to leave their Maverick home. It's never been just a building."  - Beth Francesco

"When I first arrived at UTA in 1997, I couldn’t believe it when I went to Texas Hall to see the basketball team play. I was amazed that one of them didn’t fall off the stage. We continued to attend and support our teams. However, we were so happy to see the new CPC. We bought season tickets and went to most games, setting very near the floor. We went to pregame events and celebrated the leadership of Jim Spaniolo, especially for the CPC. I know John Hall was responsible for much of the project. From 1997-2020 I saw UTA transform to a Tier I institution, beginning with the leadership of President Robert Witt who would go on to transform the University of Alabama, too."  - Jeanne Gerlach

"I was literally folding up one of the shirts from the opening just this past weekend, thinking about how proud I was to have such an amazing space on my campus."  - Justin Gerstenfield

"I was there that night and even before that night when we got to choose our seats for the upcoming season! Took a tour with Pete Carlon too. I was so glad that Athletics would be able to recruit with a new, top notch arena instead of a stage for a court! The players we so fun to watch (and provide with cookies) after each game."  - Cathy Veldman Goyne

"What I remember most is pride, and what a great group of colleagues to work with who all played vital roles in the success of the College Park Center grand opening….. and it was truly grand….. let’s do it again!"  - John Hall

"It was a complete game changer for entire UT Arlington community to see this magnificent facility filled with all the Blue and Orange pride you can imagine. For lack of a better phrase, it felt like UTA had arrived. We were now playing, literally, on the big stage. So much excitement, so many emotions to see Jim Spaniolo's vision and all the hard work of so many come to life. It is one of my favorite memories of my time here at UTA. What I also remember is that every new event that was staged in College Park -- Commencement, Graduation, Block Party, MavsMeet -- each of them brought up the same since of pride and all the feels."  - Jay Horn

"I graduated in December 2011, the semester before it opened, so the first event I attended there was the Drake concert. It was arguably the best concert UTA held. It was even more sweet because it was in the new College Park Center."  - Ricky D. Irving Jr.

"I remember how the MAC, College Park, the new halls and apartments, the Green -- really all the new campus improvements -- began to change the way we saw ourselves and others saw us. It completed us as a first rate institution. UTA became a vibrant place second to no other. Now the great academic institution we were was complete, both programs in and outside the classroom. We became top tier in all respects."  - Frank Lamas

"I have many wonderful memories of everything that went into the opening. An entire community was formed to celebrate the possibility we saw in the venue. Each of the series of events, from the parking lot groundbreaking to the opening game and concert and Homecoming kept the excitement building. The 1895 Society dinner in June was breathtaking, and the District opening capped it all. With each activity I remember working with creative dedicated staff members, and wonderful donors who came together to move UTA forward."  - Mark LaVelle

"What I remember most about seeing the College Park Center for the first time was how magnificent of a building it was, the media coverage it attracted, and how happy people looked as they arrived for the opening. Excitement was in the air. People of various races, ages, faiths, political leanings, etc., united for good. It was fabulous."  - Bridget Lewis

"I remember what a show we all put on--with a little help from our amazingly talented friends at Corporate Magic--to signify that the university was entering into a new era. From the video of President Spaniolo throwing a basketball from Texas Hall that 'crashed' through the College Park Center ceiling to the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders descending from the rafters down to the court, it was a truly memorable evening. We were all lifted up and inspired by Jim's emotional remarks at the end--underscored by Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop. It really doesn't get much better than that. Unless, of course, you count the event on top of the parking deck (with a stage production that included a combination of live action and interactive video footage) that signaled the opening of the entire College Park District!"  - Jerry Lewis

"As a member of the various commencement committees at the time, I attended the ground breaking event (and still have my little gold shovel). All of us were so excited for the various opportunities and possibilities that the College Park Center would provide. From a graduation perspective, we were having a hard time fitting all of the students into Texas Hall and really needed to break some units into multiple ceremonies so that graduates had access to more than 4 tickets. My, that was an exceptional time of growth and excitement at UTA! When the grand opening occurred, I had just given birth to my daughter, Embry, so I was on maternity leave. That didn’t keep us from homecoming, though! None of us were prepared for the energy and excitement of the event. I had never seen the university and surrounding community come together like that. It was little Embry’s first public outing and I think Seth came home covered in confetti. It was an experience I will never forget!"  - Jessica Winter Lunce

"The first time I saw College Park Center, I thought, lots of work ahead of me, LOL. Actually, what a great background to work with. How awesome, I thought, that the athletes won’t have to play on a stage anymore."  - Beth McHenry

"We (Development) shuffled those blueprints and showed off the renderings to anyone who would listen for over a year. Then we watched them break ground and dig the hole, all the while doing dozens of hard hat tours, trying to describe what the finished product would look like (including all the naming opportunities). So the grand opening was pretty emotional, the culmination of all that hard work. Yet strangely, what sticks in my mind about that night is the wall in the big suite covered in colorful glass creations by David Keens and the UTA Glass Studio."  - Marla Morris

"I was working in Guest Services that night. What energy! It’s a beautiful facility and was much needed at UTA. Many fun memories working there with Sharon Carey!"  - Patty Murphy

"This photo is from the College Park District grand opening (held up on top of the Park South parking garage). We put on a production of all of the things you could see and do in the brand new district (followed by a special Maverick Speakers Series event with Seth Meyers)!"  - Shaunda Poster Musick

"I attended several of the opening events but the things I remember most was our department delivering a lot of the equipment for the Center and timing deliveries with the installation teams to be on the docks at the correct times. It was a long process, but such a great asset to the university."  - Darrell Posey

"I cried the first time I walked in to the space."  - Cathy Pritchett

"I don’t remember what my first event there was, but I met James Franco at College Park Center when I was in high school and saw Seth Meyers perform. Both were so fun and I was so shocked that they were in my hometown!"  - Kendall Quirk

"I remember how packed the basketball game was. It was also cool to see how packed the streets were. I remember hearing people say that they had not been on campus in 10 years and how awesome it felt to be back."  - Durl Rather

"University College staff all brought our students to the first basketball ball game in College Park Center, and Michael Moore schooled us on how to be proper basketball home team fans! It was great fun! We painted our faces, read newspapers, chanted obnoxious things, and so on."  - Dawn Remmers

"It is such a lovely addition to the east side of campus. So many wonderful memories there!"  - Kerri Ressl

"That first basketball game - magic! The sound system blowing our socks off. The game feeling up close and personal from every seat. Jim (Spaniolo) and Beth (McHenry) will have to complete the story but remember Jim’s fabulous mid court free throw?!"  - Marcy Sanders

"I can’t remember any specifics but I do know this: I felt that UTA had turned a corner in the evolution of its identity, its culture, and its status. We were no longer that school that just settled for what it had, eg, basketball games on the stage of Texas Hall. We had arrived. I felt very proud. Very proud."  David Silva

"I remember thinking, 'We have a real arena.' The colors were bright and vivid, the crowd was excited and the ribbon was fun. It felt like UTA graduated from commuter college to a traditional one."  - Reace Alvarenga Smith

"Feb. 1, 2012.  What kind of a day was it? Well, it was unseasonably warm, almost balmy. A perfect day to walk across the campus the College Park Center. It was perhaps the most exciting, uplifting and proud day of the nine and a half years I served as President. It was a magical evening filled with excitement and anticipation. The arena was virtually filled with more than 6,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community supporters and fans cheering for the Mavericks to prevail against UT San Antonio. The Lady Mavs won their game first and then the men prevailed by a single point 67-66 in the second game. Bedlam! Afterwards, I was overcome with emotion as we sang the alma mater from center court. What a day, what a night.

Why so much excitement and emotion? Because opening College Park Center was living the Dream, a dream that was thought to be impossible for many years. It proved that we were not destined to play basketball and volley ball on the stage of the vintage auditorium, Texas Hall. Maverick Pride was on full display. It was a celebration for UTA and the City of Arlington joined together.

I’ve always thought College Park Center has a majestic appearance. It doesn’t look like a traditional basketball arena; from outward appearances, it could be a concert hall or performing arts center. A real addition to the physical attractiveness of the campus. Over the past 10 years, it has been the venue for so many varied events, including concerts, Maverick Speaker Series, and UTA as well as many high school commencement ceremonies. It’s literally been a building for all seasons!

So many individuals worked tirelessly with great energy, creativity in a collaborative spirit to make College Park Center a reality. Maverick Magic!  I will be forever grateful."  - James D. Spaniolo, UT Arlington President, 2004-13

"All of these memories are spot on, but NO ONE has mentioned the two dancing guys in the stands! Remember them? They were hysterical!" Sue Spaniolo

"As I was searching for photos, one popped up of Jim Spaniolo and (UTA alumna) Karen Borta doing the live CBS11 broadcast that day. Also I loved, loved the dance team’s halftime show. We rocked that opening series of events, team, did we not?"  - Kristin Sullivan

"I was Student Body President that year and it was such a proud moment for the entire University community. I remember being in the VIP suite and just being in awe of the Maverick pride that filled the building from alumni and current students. It was a great day to be a Maverick...

...There was a buzz that the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders were going to be there but none of the students could believe it. We kept thinking there’s no way that they would be there for UTA, and then as soon as they came out, we were amazed. It felt like UTA was in the big leagues and the entire community was just as proud as we were. It was truly electrifying. I had never felt that level of Maverick spirit before, but it became the norm with future events, commencements, etc. To see that whole section of campus transformed into a vibrant place for the community to come together. It was a day that I’ll never forget!"  - Jennifer Fox Taylor

"I remember tearing up at the sight of an arena full of people wearing blue and orange. It was so exciting to see that much school spirit at UTA. I was also excited for Jim because not many people get to see their vision come to fruition and such an incredible way."  - Stephanie Thompson

“I remember the joy of seeing a first-rate arena packed with Mavericks and the energy of the place. Knowing the long road it took to get the Student Life (funding) Initiative passed in the first place made it that much sweeter to see the dream actually become a reality.”  - Brian Casey Townsend

"Danny and I said hello to the new arena and goodbye to UTA and Texas that night. Bittersweet! I was so proud of UTA and President Jim Spaniolo for making this dream come true. And now there’s a brick in front of College Park honoring Danny, near Jim's brick, that will be there forever. It’s a perfect full circle."  - Monica Woodward

Photos from members of the UTA community and UTA Flickr album. Photo collage of College Park Center under construction from UTA College Park Center Facebook page.

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