​Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena Long-Awaited Renovation Doesn't Disappoint

Kevin Jackman
November 02, 2018 - 10:40 pm
Welsh-Ryan Arena

WBBM Newsradio/Kevin Jackman


CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Northwestern’s Welsh-Ryan Arena is not the Welsh-Ryan Arena known to Wildcats of the past 66 years.

Opened in 1952 and last remodeled in 1983, the home to four varsity sports received a major facelift with a $110 million renovation. Combe Family Vice President for Athletics & Recreation Jim Phillips was on hand for the unveiling.

“It’s a transformational moment for us, not only as basketball programs, or volleyball and wrestling,” Phillips said. “But I also believe as a department, as a place that has really committed itself to excellence.”

Taking place over 18 months and forcing the relocation of athletic events for the 2017-2018 school year, the project has come to an end -- but the by-product of possessing such an impressive facility has only just begun to show itself.

“Some would say this is the end because we’ve cut the ribbon and this has been a long process,” Phillips said. “I beg to differ. This is just the beginning because we haven’t had a chance to recruit to it yet, we haven’t been able to train in it yet.”

Northwestern Welsh Ryan Arena

After spending a year playing home games inside Rosemont’s All State Arena, head men’s basketball coach Chris Collins is excited to get back on campus and show off the new facility.

“You think about college basketball, those are the special environments --you think of the Duke’s, the Kansas’s, the Kentucky’s, the Indiana’s – the places that have that special environment where students are right on top of the court,” Collins said. “There’s an atmosphere where opposing teams know what they’re in for. And that’s what we’re trying to build. And you can really only build that if you’re right on campus. “

Head women’s basketball coach Joe McKeown had an opportunity to walk through the brand-new interior of the building with his players, many of which came to Evanston on the promise of a sterling new stadium.

“We’ve had to recruit on what’s going to happen the last two years,” McKeown said. “For my freshman now, they walked in for practice this morning and they said ‘coach, you didn’t lie to me, this is the real thing.”

Supporters at Welsh-Ryan Arena unveiling
WBBM Newsradio/Kevin Jackman

The renovations are expansive, aimed at creating a more intimate experience, while providing comprehensive amenities. Subtracting seats, the arena’s capacity now sits at 7,500, the lowest figure in the Big Ten Conference. To compensate, the University has added more efficient and prevalent concession stands, bathrooms, and common areas for fans to stand and socialize in.

“We thought we could do something completely different, something against the norm that you’ve seen across the country,” Phillips said. “And really try and downsize and make it more intimate. You’re going to see this really incredible home court advantage.”

The men’s basketball team opens the regular season at home on November 8 against New Orleans, while the women’s team hosts Duke on November 11.