UNIVERSITY PARK — Joe Battista was practically glowing when he stood near the ledge 50 feet above the arena floor, with a row of brand new seats inches from his feet.
“For me these are the best seats in the house,” he crowed. “You can see the whole ice from here.”
Penn State’s associate athletic director for ice arena and hockey development was standing in one of the two “opera boxes” in the upper corner of Pegula Ice Arena – the newest athletic palace on campus.
The countdown to the arena’s opening is now into double digits, the arena is 95 percent completed – according to Battista – and the first season in the new building for the men’s ice hockey program is nearing a sellout.
And while those opera boxes may be the best ones, according to Battista, there isn’t a bad seat in the $90 million house at the corner of Curtin Road and University Drive.
Battista gave a tour to the CDT on Friday, showing off how much is done — and how little is left — with the first game in the building a mere 75 days away.
The seats have been in place in the main arena for a while, walls are painted, carpet is down, signs hang on walls, desks and couches are in some of the offices and even some grass has been planted outside.
“I’m very happy with what I’ve seen,” men’s hockey head coach Guy Gadowsky said earlier in the week. “Obviously it’s not 100 percent complete yet, but you certainly can see everything taking shape.”
Everyone in the hockey family also is happy to see how hot the tickets are, not only for the first game Oct. 11, but for the entire season. Battista said about 225 season tickets remain — including about 30 in the club seats, which are $500 each, and only a handful in the first row next to the glass, which go for $700 apiece for the season. The 88 loge-level seats are all long gone.
Adding in the expectation of the 1,050-seat student section selling out with ease when those seats are offered, and there should be a capacity crowd of 6,000, or close to it, on hand for every game this season. Only a few hundred single-game tickets will be available each night.
“We did our budget based on 75 percent capacity,” Battista said. “At least in the first year, we’re going to be way above that.”
There are some other key dates on the horizon for the building, which not only will be the home for the Nittany Lion men’s and women’s programs, but also for community youth and adult leagues, skating lessons and figure skating:
X The first layer of ice is scheduled to be put down Aug. 15.
X The first person on skates should be stepping on the ice around Aug. 19.
X Teams and programs will begin moving into the building Sept. 6, with Nittany Lion student-athletes starting informal workouts right away. Through the rest of September other programs, like club leagues and teaching programs, will migrate a few hundred yards from the Greenberg Ice Pavilion to the new arena. Battista figured everyone will be moved in by the end of the month.
X They expect to open the building for public tours on Sept. 16.
X A “soft opening” is scheduled for Sept. 28, with a “flush test” for the pipes and various equipment and amenities given a run.
X The official grand opening will be held Oct. 11. The dedication will be at 1:30 p.m., the doors will open at 6 p.m. at the same time the homecoming parade begins outside the building, and the puck drops at 8 p.m. for the game against Army.
X The women’s team plays its first game at Pegula on Oct. 18 against Union. That team opens its season at Vermont on Oct. 4.
There will be a few headaches with the grand opening – in addition to Battista already having to say “no” to ticket requests for the Army game – like having the ceremony on homecoming weekend, with the football team facing Michigan the next day at Beaver Stadium. Just getting to parking spots may be tricky for fans.
“We chose that for the big splash,” Battista said. “We’ve got national media here because of the football game, it’s homecoming weekend, lots of dignitaries are already going to be in town. We just said, ‘We’re going to get it all out of the way at once.”
Battista was more than happy to show off some of the top features for the building, designed by Crawford Architects of Kansas City, Mo., and Bohlin, Cywinski Jackson, of Wilkes-Barre.
The scoreboard, LED ribbon board and video board at the main entrance are already functioning, as are the compressors and jet ice system. A room with synthetic ice for shot and stick-handling training is completed. The locker rooms have player numbers on the woodwork, the hot- and cold-water therapy tubs are set and even a sign over the community rink made of pucks from the Big Ten, CHA and youth leagues from around the state is in place and lit up.
“I’m pumped for our student athletes,” Gadowsky said. “It’s going to be a great place to develop your hockey skills and do it right in the middle of campus. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful facility for them. The community’s going to love it – what a great place to watch hockey. I also have children that play in the area and it’s going to be great for the community whether they’re youth hockey players, full-timers, figure skaters or student Rec hockey players. The community aspect is going to be great as well.”
Even the plaque honoring Terry and Kim Pegula is in place. The Pegulas have donated $102 million to construct the arena and help elevate the men’s and women’s teams to NCAA Division I status. Their initial gift of $88 in September 2010 was the largest single donation in university history.
Among the areas still needing attention, there is a little work left to do on the community rink, the second sheet of ice set for the building, including the bleachers for 300 people to be put into place. There also is a large opening where the building’s restaurants will be placed, with a Subway, Auntie Anne’s pretzels and coffee shop to be open to the public daily.
Still, Battista said the building is on schedule and on budget as it nears the finish line.
Gadowsky, women’s coach Josh Brandwene and their coaches have spent the last two years trying to sell recruits on a concept, showing sketches and maybe even giving tours of a mass of concrete and steel. Now, it is close enough, they can show off a beautiful new home and a major recruiting advantage for a pair of fledgling Division I hockey programs.
With the new building nearly ready to open, they could not ask for better seats.
“When you show people plans, it’s nowhere near as effective as showing the real thing,” Gadowsky said. “The recruits that we have, have been able to come in have been extremely impressed.”