Envisioning Nebraska basketball contending on the national stage has always required a great deal of it. (Maybe a few hallucinogens, too). But crazier things have come true.
Three years ago, had you imagined Tim Miles coaching Big Ten basketball in Pinnacle Bank Arena, well, you may have needed a compass to return to reality.
The Huskers were still in the Big 12. Doc Sadler was men's basketball head coach. The Devaney Center, for better or worse, was NU's home since the Ford administration.
That spring of 2010, Lincoln residents voted to remove a few railroad tracks in the dilapidated West Haymarket and put up an arena. Now the view from the south vomitory — the grand entrance — feels like standing in a Pixar movie.
Most of the 15,500 red seats are in place. The 36 suites are close to completion. Hanging from the rafters is an HD scoreboard that promises a picture so sharp, Herbie will need to shave his peach fuzz.
Friday morning, the Mortenson Construction crew led a media tour through Lincoln's newest icon, which, two months before its first big event, is 85 to 90 percent finished.
“All the big milestones have kind of been hit,” said John Hinshaw, senior project manager. “We've achieved those. Now it's just everybody finishing 100 percent of their work.”
UNL summer graduates will break in the arena Aug. 16. And in November, Miles' Huskers will host Florida Gulf Coast in the first regular-season game.
What will Husker fans notice inside?
>> A main concourse that, on the south end of the arena, looks out through huge glass windows on the Haymarket. You can even see the top of the State Capitol. Picture windows on the east side look out at Memorial Stadium.
>> Twelve to 18 rows of retractable seating in the lower bowl that enable the arena floor to enlarge for conventions, wrestling tournaments, even hockey.
“Having these huge retractables on each side, this is not normal for an arena,” Hinshaw said. “They spent some money down here to make it a true multi-purpose arena.”
>> Rather than one large upper bowl, Pinnacle Bank has two smaller, stacked decks. It's common in football stadiums, Hinshaw said, but unique to arena construction. It creates a steeper, more intimidating feel on the floor. It also brings fans in the top bowl closer to the action.
“That's what stands out in this arena,” said Derek Cunz, vice president-general manager of Mortenson Sports Group. “It's a big arena in terms of seat count, but it's pretty intimate because of the vertical nature of the seating bowl. ... You're basically looking right down on the court.”
>> A horseshoe upper bowl, just as CenturyLink Center had originally — Omaha filled in the upper bowl in 2006. Hinshaw said leaving the north end open means Lincoln doesn't have to block off upper-bowl seats for concerts.
>> The main concourse is comfortably wide. But even better is a more narrow concourse, inside the gates, just above the lower bowl. A dad with a fidgety 5-year-old can circle that walkway all night and not miss a second of action.
>> Finally, the scoreboard. The Devaney Center had a beauty in the old days. But this one, which was off during Friday's tour, is bigger and features high-definition, six-millimeter pixels. Hinshaw said it may be the first of its kind in a college basketball arena.
Pinnacle Bank Arena doesn't look much different from new arenas in Kansas City and Omaha. But considering where the West Haymarket — and Husker basketball — were three years ago, it barely seems real.
In fact, looking up from the arena floor Friday, you could almost imagine an NCAA tournament banner hanging in the rafters.
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