Weir proposes converting unused Pit suites into offices

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Pictured is a crowd at a Lobo men's basketball game at the Pit back in Dec. 16, 2016. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal file)

Paul Weir has ideas. And not just about hoops.

The 39-year-old Weir, entering his second season as the University of New Mexico men’s basketball, approached the Board of Regents Finance and Facilities committee on Tuesday with a design plan.

Actually, after sending a litany of emails to various administrators with nobody answering his questions, Weir went to the regents to essentially ask for their “blessing” to move forward with a piecemeal renovation project that, longterm, would convert 16 of the 40 suites in Dreamstyle Arena — the Pit into office and other usable work spaces for the men’s and women’s basketball teams.

Weir’s proposal, an information item not requiring any formal vote or committee action, was just one of several athletics matters addressed in Tuesday’s committee meeting.

“First off, let me just say I have a complete respect, understanding of fiscal austerity and what things are going on in our community,” Weir said, acknowledging the years of financial stress the department has been under, in particular last month’s regents vote to eliminate four sports.

“I don’t want to be here as a basketball coach with his hand out. That’s not the intent.”

Instead, Weir said he is trying to get a green light to go forward with spending $150,000 of capital outlay money the program already has for facility upgrades as a start to a bigger project that would include him asking donors to fund a large portion of an estimated $2 million conversion — a project that could be done in small parts over years as money becomes available.

He says it is to get better use out of an area that is being under utilized now as suites largely go unsold each season.

“The Pit is terrific,” Weir said. “It has a lot of open, creative spaces with a lot of opportunity that quite frankly just sits there year-round. … There’s a lot of potential at the Pit to really redesign our space.”

The suites, which were added to the Pit as part of the $60 million renovation in 2009 and were originally supposed to be how the project would be funded. Instead, they’ve not been the revenue source they were promised to be and have averaged just about 20 sold suites per season (out of 40), athletic director Eddie Nuñez said.

Weir said the men’s and women’s basketball offices in the Rudy Davalos practice facility are not ideal for productive work due to design — both small in size and noise issues that come from trying to hold meetings or have phone calls in an office that shares a glass window with the practice court as teams are practicing there.

It’s not known how much of the 15,411 capacity of the Pit would decrease in the proposal.

Projects under $300,000 do not need regent involvement.

Weir said he’d like to spend part of the program’s $150,000 to “glass off” the 16 suites on the south side of the Pit, only three of which were paid for last season by private donors. Three more were used either by UNM or by licensing partner Learfield Sports and can be moved.

Nothing has yet been decided on the project.

UNM athletics will up its request to the state legislature this upcoming session from the $2.6 million it received last fiscal year to $4.1 million.

The $1.5 million increase is to account for such things as travel, equipment, student wellness, Nuñez said, and also trying to “bring parity” between what UNM athletics gets from the state in general appropriations and what new Mexico State University gets, which for several years has been about $500,000 more. Since 2005, however, UNM athletics has also received more than $30 million more in capital outlay money from the state compared to NMSU.

When asked, Nuñez said the money being asked for is not to try and reinstate recently cut sports. In fact, he added UNM would likely still need to find more funding to sufficiently support the 18 sports remaining sports.

Regent Marron Lee then asked if that meant more sports could be cut in the next few years, specifically suggesting Lobo baseball would be next to be considered. Nuñez acknowledged that is a possibility.

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