New complex will help Coppin share the wealth

Posted: 6:40 pm Thu, December 3, 2009
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

Derrick Ramsey, Coppin State UniversityWhen Coppin State University’s basketball team tips off against local rival Morgan State University in its new home Saturday, the crowd will be louder, the lights brighter and that new-building smell may still linger in the air.

After more than 20 years in Coppin Center, the team is debuting its state-of-the-art arena — part of a $130 million physical education complex many hope will not only help recruiting but will lift the school and its Northwest Baltimore community’s revitalization.

“This is an opportunity for the people in the community to share in the wealth of the building,” said university President Reginald S. Avery, adding the new buildings could host concerts, town halls and other events. “This is not only Coppin’s building but the community’s as well.”

Spanning more than five acres, the complex increases the university’s size by one-third and creates a new campus entrance with the arena on Gwynns Falls Parkway, across the street from the recently revitalized Mondawmin Mall. The buildings include the 4,100-seat arena — more than twice the capacity of Coppin Center — classrooms, separate workout facilities for students and athletes, studios, gyms, a pool and offices for the athletics, university police and capital planning departments. A track, playing fields and tennis courts make up the rest of the complex.

“We see this as the pride of West Baltimore,” said Derrick Ramsey, Coppin’s athletic director.

Saturday’s scheduled game will be the unveiling of the arena. The rest of the complex will be finished early next year.

The new facility is leaps and bounds from Coppin Center, where students and athletes competed for workout space in the weight room, intramural sports schedules competed with varsity schedules, and office space and meeting rooms were more of an architectural afterthought.

“When Coppin Center opened [in 1987], we had been playing at the [Baltimore City] Community College, so we were thrilled to have our own place,” said Ron “Fang” Mitchell, the men’s basketball coach. “I remember back to a time when the kids didn’t even have dorms — this is the end result of all those things.”

He and other coaches say the new facilities could be a game changer in recruiting athletes.

“The D.C. and Baltimore area is probably one of the most-recruited areas on the East Coast,” said Derek Brown, coach of the women’s basketball team. “We’ve been trying to recruit more in-state, and now we think we have the facility to compete with other schools.”

With the addition of an NCAA-regulation soccer field and swimming pool, Avery said Coppin hopes to add those varsity sports and expand recruiting internationally.

In addition to athletics, the development raises the school’s profile and will increase the sense of community among students. Many hope the complex, and a new science and technology center that is being planned, will help the school’s retention rate. According to a study by American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Coppin’s retention and graduation rate of 19 percent rank among the lowest in the nation.

“I think we’ve got to look at brain and brawn,” said Avery, Coppin’s president. “The more we can engage our students, the more we can adjust the retention issue and get them to stay on campus.”

In the community, interest is already building. Ramsey said he’s received countless calls from people interested in the gym memberships and athletics classes the school will be offering. With the additional fields, tennis courts and more arena seating, the school can also generate revenue by hosting tournaments and renting space to local sports leagues.

The complex is also included as a practice facility in Baltimore’s bid to be a host city if the United States is selected to host soccer’s 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

Michael Frenz, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which managed and designed the project for the university, called the complex a “stand-up triple” because of its contribution to the redevelopment of the area, its expected LEED environmental certification and the more than 40 percent project participation by minority businesses.

“The state program is designed to … provide opportunities for minority and women entrepreneurs,” he said. “When it’s placed in the context of a historically black university, I think it has even more meaning.”

As for Saturday’s game, the school expects a packed house for the conference matchup. Mitchell, the men’s basketball coach, said. But by then, the excitement over the new arena will be the last thing on his mind.

“I’ll take in the festivities now … but to be honest, all that ‘official opening’ stuff will be gone,” he said. “I’ll only have one thought process — and that’s how to beat Morgan State.”