Elon Goes For Big-Arena Feel

North Carolina school's sports programs playing in new 5,100-seat venue

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: January 3, 2019

Elon University's new Schar Center during the Elon-North Carolina game Nov. 9. (Courtesy Elon University)

Schar Center, Elon University’s new arena, captures the big feel that school officials were looking for in a smaller venue while providing a multipurpose space for the North Carolina institution.

The 5,100-seat arena opened in August for women’s volleyball, and it’s also the home of Elon men’s and women’s basketball. On Nov. 9, the Elon men drew an overflow crowd of 5,245 for a game against the University of North Carolina.

Since that time, the men have played eight home games at Schar Center with a high attendance of 2,231 against the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. A check of box scores shows most crowds have been in the 1,500 range.

The project cost ran about $45 million with a lead gift of $13 million from Dwight and Martha Schar, whose two sons have attended Elon. Dwight Schar, a co-owner of the Washington Redskins, owns NVR, the country’s fifth-largest home builder. More than 20 donors contributed money to the project.

Arkansas-based WER Architects, in conjunction with Gensler Sports, designed the arena. WER designed the University of Arkansas-Little Rock’s Jack Stephens Center, which served as a model for Elon’s arena, according to Athletic Director Dave Blank.

Thirteen years ago, Blank took over as AD with the vision of building a new basketball facility to replace Alumni Gym, a 1,700-seat building. It opened in 1949 and has been renovated over the years, but it was time for a new facility for Elon as it sought to elevate its status in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“It served us well, but we wanted something bigger and better,” he said. “The driving force was to build something that we felt would be legitimate for where we want to position ourselves for Division I basketball.”

Officials at Elon, a private institution, first explored building an even bigger arena, Blank said. In the end, 5,100 seats, all cushioned with chair backs, was the right size for both sports and graduation ceremonies, he said.

Elon, N.C., is about 65 miles northwest of Raleigh, the school itself has 6,700 students.

“It’s a convocation center as well, so we wanted something that fit the institution based on our class sizes,” he said. “We had to keep that in mind as we built the project. There’s (little) commercialization in the building and that’s by design as well. It can be academic when we want it to be (and) a lot of that went into development.”

The arena, designed in the same Georgian brick style prevalent across campus, has three levels. The high roof gives it the “big feel” Blank references in describing the building. The concourse circles the arena and has views to the court from the corners. In the southwest corner, fans can watch the game and turn around to look through a window into the practice facility.

“It’s a great (spot) for recruiting,” he said.

The arena has 125 club seats along the east side supported by the Sunbrella Club lounge, which runs the length of the court. Those premium-seat patrons get access to a buffet meal, cash bar, dining tables and televisions. Season tickets are sold out for the club, priced at $170 to $220 a seat, on top of required donations to the Phoenix Club, the school’s donor program, Blank said.

There are two large videoboards in the arena’s north and south ends. Both displays, produced by Daktronics, measure 14.5 feet tall and 60 feet wide. Elon decided on end zone boards over a center-hung structure, which can make it difficult for some fans in the lower bowl to see those screens, he said.

“Daktronics will tell you they’re the largest indoor boards in the state of North Carolina,” Blank said. “We can use them as one big TV or split them into thirds and still have good-size video. You can see any one of these boards from any angle in the building and they’re huge.”

The arena’s technology extends to wireless connectivity run by the school that can be strengthened depending on the event, whether it’s a small breakfast meeting on the concourse to a basketball sellout such as the Tar Heels-Phoenix game. 

In addition, officials ran fiber from Schar Center to other sports venues on campus to allow students in the School of Communications to livestream sports events from a production studio in the arena. Elon created a new full-time position that oversees 25 students working for Maroon Sports, the university group that launched in 2017 to stream events.

“It’s a multimillion-dollar setup for all their equipment,” Blank said. “It’s impressive. We’re still learning it as well, but that’s the kind of involvement we want on campus. It’s a special feature.”

Apart from sports and graduations, Schar Center has played host to the Harlem Globetrotters and a concert with Jesse McCartney, Sean Kingston and Quinn XCII tied to the football team’s homecoming game. The show gave officials a chance to test the sound and lighting systems.

There will be opportunities to book more special events, but for now the school is taking things slow as the arena goes through its first year of operation.

“There will be things that make sense as we go along,” Blank said. “I could see the arena potentially being a site for a presidential debate.”

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: January 3, 2019