John Paul Jones Arena

John Paul Jones Arena, the newest and largest indoor sporting facility in the Commonwealth, turns one year old this summer. Over the course of that year, the arena has garnered the attention of University sports fans, area concertgoers and performers from across the nation.

Pollstar Magazine, a music industry trade publication, named JPJ the "Best New Major Concert Venue" in February at the 18th annual Pollstar Concert Industry Awards ceremony. At the time, Pollstar Editor-in-Chief Gary Bongiovanni said a number of tours would travel to Charlottesville for the first time because of the new venue.

With the new facility as a bargaining chip, JPJ General Manager Larry Wilson and SMG Entertainment, the company contracted to manage the arena, have been able to attract a number of high-profile guests to the University. Just a few of the musical artists who have performed at the arena include Kenny Chesney, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rod Stewart and Justin Timberlake. In addition to concerts, the venue has also hosted a number of non-musical events including a monster truck rally, an appearance by comedian Jon Stewart and a WWE wrestling event.

John Paul Jones Arena first opened its doors Aug. 1, 2006 for Cirque du Soleil's Delirium performance. The official grand opening of the arena, however, came in September when it hosted the local favorite Dave Matthews Band for a two-night, tour-ending stand. This marked the first time the group had played in town since its appearance at Scott Stadium in April 2001.

A slam dunk season

Later in the year, the University men's and women's basketball programs marked the beginning of their first seasons in the arena with two victories.

"The greatest moment was when it opened," women's basketball coach Debbie Ryan said. "It was like you were in Hollywood with all of the fanfare."

In the first game of the Nov. 12 double-header, the Virginia women's team beat Old Dominion University 92-72 in a game Ryan called one of the season's most memorable. Later in the evening, a capacity crowd witnessed another victory as the Virginia men's team defeated No. 10 Arizona 93-90. Before the men's game, the elaborate pre-game festivities included Cav Man descending from the rafters and famous announcer Michael Buffer introducing the starting lineup.

By season's end, both the men's and women's teams had accumulated winning records at their new home. Executive Associate Athletics Director Jon Oliver said he attributes the success of both programs to the many sold-out crowds and excitement generated by the fans.

"Everybody is pretty happy with the surroundings, the court and the excitement that's created in the arena," Oliver said.

According to Ryan, her players have described the arena as "big time." She said John Paul Jones can "absolutely" be a home for future championships in the ACC and NCAA.

"It's changed [the basketball program] in so many ways it's hard to quantify," Ryan said. "It's elevated the perception of the program. It's a great marketing tool. It's made the entire athletic department gain in credibility."

Oliver said the athletic department had the future success of the basketball programs in mind when building the arena.

"I think everything we do in the department is trying to set teams up to win championships," Oliver said. "We believe we've given both basketball programs that opportunity."

A gift that keeps on giving

With the story of basketball at John Paul Jones Arena just beginning and the venue's first anniversary on the horizon, many University officials remember a long road of raising the funds and support necessary to make the project happen. According to press releases issued around the time of the grand opening, the arena was one of the first to be built by a public university with predominately private funds.

"The project became a reality because of the leadership of a president who could envision what this facility could mean for our students and the larger community," stated Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer, in an e-mail. "The University has generous alumni and friends who supported the project and a number of hard working individuals who carried out the project. Our many donors, who contributed so generously to the project, understood what we were trying to do and wanted to be a part of it."

In October 2001, Paul Tudor Jones II presented the University with a $20 million gift earmarked for the arena project. Jones' gift was part of a 10-year commitment to the athletic department that allowed the University to break ground on the project sooner than officials had planned, according to information from University spokesperson Carol Wood.

Jones graduated from the College in 1976 with a degree in economics and had already made significant donations to the University in prior years. He endowed a research professorship shared by the Darden Graduate School of Business Administration and the McIntire School of Commerce. He also donated $10 million to fund an addition to Clark Hall.

In 2003, Jones was granted his naming request for the new arena and decided to name the facility in honor of his father, John Paul Jones, a 1948 graduate of the Law School. According to Wood, Jones had committed $35 million to the building project at the time of the naming.

"He has long been a generous supporter of this university and other worthy causes nationally," Sandridge said. "Mr. Jones saw an opportunity for the University to build a facility that would not only serve as the best place in the country for our student athletes to play competitive basketball, but also to serve as a venue for other events to include everything from high school graduations to major concerts ... The facility would not have happened without Paul Tudor Jones' commitment."

Looking forward

According to Sandridge, proceeds from the events are used to offset the arena's operating cost. He stated that without these special events, student activity fees would be more expensive and fund-raising for the project would be an ongoing process.

"We are fortunate to have had great success in the first year, and the portion of the operating costs that could be offset with proceeds from events has exceeded our expectations," Sandridge stated.

Though a full calendar of events for the arena's second year in operation has yet to be completed, there are at least two major events planned in the coming months. Tennis stars Pete Sampras and John McEnroe will play an exhibition match July 20, the first tennis match in the venue. Also, finalists from the sixth season of American Idol will perform live as part of a national concert tour Sept. 10.

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