For all the physical changes at the University of Akron the past decade, upgrading and improving the campus, the James A. Rhodes Arena has remained largely the same. The home of the UA basketball programs long has rated inadequate, and now is aging. Of late, a familiar conversation has been renewed about delivering something better, especially for a men’s basketball program, led by Keith Dambrot, that has eight consecutive 20-win seasons and annually competes for the Mid-American Conference title and a place in the NCAA tournament.
A strong argument can be made for remodeling the arena at its current campus location, adding another element to the attractive transformation. If completed, a refreshed and enhanced facility there still would benefit the city, the site a short distance from downtown, the university already expanding its presence, crossing the rail tracks and High Street, approaching Main.
Yet that growing footprint also fuels the more compelling case for a downtown location, across from Canal Park. The university often, and correctly, portrays itself as crucial to the local and regional economy. True, too, is that a vibrant city core helps to attract students and other talent. That explains the investment in the University Park Alliance, the effort, albeit now stalled, to remake 50 blocks surrounding the campus.
Locate the arena downtown, and the Zips would practically play on campus. The larger benefit would come from the ripple effect, the facility meshing with other attractions there, strengthening the essential connection between the city and the university.
Of course, a discussion about the location matters little without the money to build an arena, and funding, in this instance, poses a big question. Still, if the city and Summit County step up as revenue sources, that surely would translate into leverage about the location.
At the same time, there are other complications. The county sheriff argues that his office cannot continue to manage the jail effectively without additional funds. Add public schools and social services to the list of those lacking sufficient resources. Is an arena affordable?
On today’s Commentary page, Richard Vedder of Ohio University delves into how universities have increased sharply spending on athletics. Economists point out that on their own, arenas rarely operate in the black, let alone create jobs. Yet each project must be assessed against the unique local landscape, or how an arena would add value in a particular setting. With that in mind, the city and the university have time to get it right, carefully examining such items as size, funding and location. They would do well, especially, to keep sight of how complementary their interests and objectives are.