EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 10, 2010

UMass Lowell gives Tsongas Center a facelift

By Rosemary Ford

LOWELL — The next time you go to the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, expect to see some big changes.

A new, 18,000-pound video scoreboard now hangs over center ice.

Seventy padded, leather-backed seats will provide comfort for those who purchase premium tickets for hockey games or concerts.

The luxurious, new 4,800-square-foot Lowell Cooperative Bank Pavilion offers a prime view of the action, among comfortable seating, paneled walls and plasma televisions.

A new sound system equipped with 60 speakers is in place throughout the arena, along with cameras to feed images to the scoreboard.

And over at Rowdy's Roadhouse Café©, there will be authentic barbecue made on the premises, and other concessions will feature freshly made burritos, local favorite Sal's Pizza, the same all-beef hot dogs made famous at Fenway Park, and new additions to the beverage selection.

These changes and more will greet visitors at the Tsongas Center, which plans to wrap up renovations on the former Tsongas Arena by Oct. 22. UMass Lowell acquired the building from the city earlier this year.

"The building is going into its 13th year," said Director of Athletics Business Enterprises Peter Casey, who oversees the center's operations. "Although it's still in great shape, we decided it needed to be upgraded."

UMass Lowell's Division I hockey team will play its games at the facility, but the new Tsongas Center will also host many community events, including Bob Dylan on Saturday, Nov. 20; "Riverdance on Ice," featuring Lawrence native Scott Doherty on Saturday, Oct. 16; Grammy nominated rapper Drake on Tuesday, Oct. 26; and "Disney Live: Mickey's Magic Show!" on Sunday, Nov. 28.

"We're able to bring in many shows we weren't able to before because of the AHL team," said Casey, referring to the Lowell Devils, who relocated to New York over the summer, opening up 40 dates at the center for entertainment and community events. "It provides us with the opportunity to bring more people into the facility."

Sports will also be featured, including the Atlantic 10 women's basketball championship and the state high-school boys' basketball tournament in March, as well as regional cheerleading competitions and figure-skating exhibitions. Watch for more upcoming events at uml.edu/tsongascenter.

"This is just the start of building a full and diverse schedule of events here at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell through our partnership with our new management company, Global Spectrum," Casey said. "We will be capitalizing on the availability of additional dates with bookings that will appeal to all interests."

Catering will also be available throughout the Tsongas Center, both at scheduled events and for meetings and other occasions. All are being offered by Aramark, which is the new food and beverage provider at the center and recently extended its contract to serve all university dining locations.

UMass Lowell acquired the former Tsongas Arena in February, changing its name and immediately refocusing the venue on hosting more sports, entertainment, events for families, business professionals and more.

After taking over the $24 million facility, UMass Lowell engaged in a first round of renovations that included new exterior signs advertising the facility and directing the public around the city and the university; the addition of 400-foot-long electronic fascia boards, or "ribbons," around the arena's seating area; and interior changes that include new banners and other branding to give the facility a fresh look.

The center also features a new permanent, interactive exhibit on the life and legacy of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas, for whom the venue is named.

The university has committed up to $5 million in capital improvements to the center, financed through the UMass Building Authority, that includes work on the interior and exterior of the structure and the acquisition of adjacent parking lots to improve access and convenience for visitors to the Tsongas Center.

History and stats:

The Tsongas Arena opened on Jan. 27, 1998.

The first event in the new facility was a sold-out UMass Lowell River Hawks ice hockey game against Dartmouth College.

Ground was broken to start construction in July 1996. UMass Lowell Athletic Director Dana Skinner was an original member of the Arena Commission appointed in 1995.

UMass Lowell and the city of Lowell announced the agreement for the university to acquire the arena on Oct. 30, 2009.

The acquisition was finalized on Feb. 5, 2010 and the venue was renamed the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell.

The first event at the new Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell was a UMass Lowell River Hawks hockey game against the Boston University Terriers on Feb. 5, 2010.

The exterior footprint of the Tsongas Center is 390,000 feet long by 270,000 feet wide.

The interior of the Tsongas Center is 208,967 square feet.

The venue seats approximately 6,500 people for a hockey game and 6,800 for a concert or other stage show.

The new Lowell Cooperative Bank Pavilion features 70 leather-backed seats with cup holders overlooking the arena floor, as well as cocktail seating for 175 and 24 high-stool seats and three high-definition plasma televisions.

Last season, 400-foot-long LED fascia, or "ribbon," boards were installed on either side of the arena floor. A new video scoreboard was recently installed above the floor.

The scoreboard includes more than 500,000 LED light bulbs and weighs approximately 18,000 pounds.

The center's electronics require seven miles of cabling and three, six-foot racks of computer equipment to operate.

The new sound system features two, six-foot racks of amplifiers and 60 new speakers.

Upcoming schedule:

Oct. 16: Riverdance on Ice

Oct. 26: Drake

Oct. 28: Arrowfest

Oct. 30: Pop Warner Football Conference of Eastern Massachusetts Cheerleading

Nov. 20: Bob Dylan & His Band

Nov. 28: Disney Live: Mickey's Magic Show!

Dec. 11: Holiday Hoop Jam — Game 1: Lowell High vs. Andover High, Game 2: UMass Lowell vs. Merrimack College