Pitt has taken another step in its development of a new sports arena in Oakland, a building that will connect what is colloquially referred to as the school’s ‘lower’ and ‘upper’ portions of campus.
On Tuesday, University officials provided the City of Pittsburgh’s planners with their designs for the $240 million facility that will house practice and competition venues for the athletic department’s volleyball, wrestling and gymnastics programs.
“It’s going to be extraordinary,” said Pitt Director of Athletics Heather Lyke in an exclusive conversation with 93.7 The Fan and KDKA Radio. “I think our wrestling coach (Keith Gavin) describes it well. He says that our facilities will finally match our expectations.”
The three programs that will compete in the arena currently use the Fitzgerald Field House, which is 71 years old.
“We want to win national championships and ACC Championships, and I don’t know that our facilities say that right now,” Lyke said. “The Field House is tired. We have wonderful memories there, and we love it. But it is time to really upgrade. It will really enhance our student-athlete experiences.”
The new building, which was initially proposed in 2020 but had construction delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will hold around 3,000 seats. It will also include a sports performance and medical center that will be utilized by 16 of Pitt’s sports programs.
Pittsburgh’s Planning Commission is scheduled to have a vote next week to approve the University’s proposal. But initial construction initiatives on the project have already been put in motion, and the University is planning an official groundbreaking celebration for late April, according to Lyke.
For years, the terms ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ campus have been thrown around by those in the area, as the hill leading up to the Petersen Events Center and Pitt’s other athletic and student facilities has acted as a bit of a barrier between those buildings and the facilities on Forbes and Fifth Avenues.
But Lyke hopes that this new project, combined with Pitt’s creation of a nine-story, $255 million student recreation center in the ‘lower’ campus area, will kill off those terms, and serve as a bridge – literally and figuratively.
“It was critically important,” said Lyke of the integration of the centers. “Our University design team has done an exceptional job with the flow of the buildings. There’s a uniqueness to Oakland. We’re not building on a flat piece of property.
“The new rec center, when you come out on the ninth floor, you’ll be able to walk out onto the roof of the new arena.”
That roof will be a common, green space built with sustainability in mind. Pitt envisions hosting watch parties for marquee events in the space, which will also be able to be utilized by all students as an area to relax.
Lyke did say that, at the moment, the University has not decided what to do with the Fitzgerald Field House site. However, the final stage of the Victory Heights plan includes an indoor track facility. Currently, Pitt’s track athletes use the indoor track in the Field House, so nothing will be done to the building until a new indoor track is constructed in 2027.
But, for now, Pitt is focused on the next phase of Victory Heights, which is scheduled to open in the fall of 2025. It’s a facility that, in conjunction with a rec center that features workout facilities, food service and other recreational activity venues, will enhance the experience for students and student-athletes alike.
“It will have a transformative, long-lasting effect,” Lyke said. “It’s a game changer for Pitt.”