ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Renaming a building, such as The Pit, after a business is one of the “highest honors” the University of New Mexico can bestow and is something no one takes lightly, according to campus officials and UNM policy.
And, while the new name, “WisePies Arena aka The Pit,” may not be universally popular, it didn’t just drop from the sky.
UNM had been wishing, rather openly, for a donation to help pay for the 2009 renovation of The Pit. WisePies — an upstart pizzeria and salad franchise based in Albuquerque — was the one business to make an offer.
Placing a name on a renovated facility generally requires that a donation cover 75 percent of construction costs.
Five years ago, University Arena — its official name at the time — was renovated from top to bottom, and UNM was left with a debt that hovers around $60 million. The $5 million WisePies has promised to pay UNM over 10 years doesn’t come close to 75 percent of the cost of renovations.
However, the same official policy contains a clear way out for UNM to approve the deal. “The criteria listed in this policy may change with economic conditions and University priorities,” it states. “Their purpose is to set reasonable guidelines which may need to be adapted to each specific situation.”
It goes on to say that the policy guidelines apply “to all prospective donors to any University college, program, campus, or organization and to the UNM Foundation,” a statement which, given the caveat, may lack much meaning.
Amy Wohlert, chairwoman of the university’s Naming Committee, says the panel met in July when Athletic Director Paul Krebs floated the idea. The committee met again in November and went through the usual naming steps, discussing pros and cons and asking about other potential donors before unanimously giving the plan its OK.
The name then went to UNM President Bob Frank, who approved. The regents gave it a final thumbs up.
“Obviously, there are people who are going to be upset,” Wohlert says. “But (WisePies) is the business that came forward, and we wish them every success.”
The caveat in the policy is there by design, she says. “If there were an ironclad policy, we wouldn’t need a committee.”
Wohlert has been chairwoman of the panel only since last summer, but she is sure there have been times when naming rights went strictly by the books.
One may have been as recently as two months ago, when UNM announced it was naming sections of University Stadium and the Pit after U.S. Bank in return for a $1.7 million gift, an eight-year deal.