By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It’s not the end of New Mexico’s Master Plan. The vision for Lobo athletics will continue to bloom and the plans will continue to grow.
But the dirt being dug up and pushed around a few hundred feet Southwest of The Pit for a new tennis facility represents a major step in a renovation project that began about seven years ago.
You might say Tim Cass is deserving of a huge, seven-year itch since he has served as Paul Krebs’ right hand man for most of this project.
“It’s exciting to see the dirt being moved. That means tennis is coming on line,” said Cass, the Deputy Athletic Director to Krebs, who is the Vice President of Athletics. “We are approaching $100 million in improvements over that seven-year span. The tennis piece is another piece of this puzzle.”
The puzzle is an impressive one. It started out as a vision, moved to actual construction plans and became reality as the funding came on line. Still, there are more things to be built and more money to raise.
This seven-year project goes back to football’s Indoor Practice Facility and includes The Pit renovation, the Student Athlete Plaza, improvements to the End Zone Club and this month the push is over by Ray Birmingham’s baseball field.
The big tractors are digging a hole that represents phase one of the McKinnon Family Tennis Center -- six sunken courts that will include stadium seating, stadium lights, and scoreboards. The plans also call for a new clubhouse with offices for the Lobo men’s and women’s programs. Ian and Sonnet McKinnon gave a record $7.5 million gift to the University of New Mexico with $1.2 million going to the McKinnon Family Tennis Center.
“The project has been supported by other individuals and a lot of them don’t want to be named,” said Cass. “But obviously the generosity of the McKinnon’s was pivotal.”
Cass said there are no state-appropriated dollars going into the tennis center and he said the City of Albuquerque donated the lights. The center will add six more courts down the road, but the lights going up the soonest over in that corner of the Lobo Athletic Complex bring a shine to Birmingham’s eyes.
His long-awaited lights should be up by the first week in November.
“I’m excited,” said Birmingham. “The improvements on the University of New Mexico baseball field come from the Hubbards, the alumni and the community that wants to see Lobo baseball improve. I hope the giving and the support inspires more people in the state to take pride in their flagship institution.”
Birmingham’s program got a huge boost from a $500,000 donation from R.D. Hubbard and his wife, Joan Dale. The Lobos already have a new turf on their field, new dugouts, new bullpens, a new scoreboard -- and the lights will soon be up. The plan also calls for a new clubhouse that will include locker rooms, restrooms, showers, a training room, storage, and a player’s lounge next door to the newly renovated Lobo Field.
“It’s almost impossible for me to express how important the Hubbard’s donation is to our program,” said Birmingham. “We recruit against programs that have some of the finest facilities in the nation and now we are moving in that same direction.”
Simply put: athletes like to play on and in nice facilities. The Lobo softball and baseball fields also will be linked up to the McKinnon Family Tennis Center by a plaza that eventually will include indoor restrooms and permanent concessions stands.
“We are creating a fan-friendly plaza with a park-like atmosphere between baseball, softball and tennis,” said Cass.
The realities of the improvements to baseball and tennis can be seen and heard by the construction equipment doing their thing in that corner of the athletic complex.
But there are more visions that UNM hopes will lead to more dirt being moved. UNM is planning to build an Olympic Sports weight and training center. There are more cosmetics and expansion needed over at University Stadium where Coach Bob Davie is building a program.
Cass said it would be nice to pull Lobo swimming and Lobo volleyball over to the South Campus.
There has been a push to build a softball and baseball complex on the South Campus to attract tourism dollars to a high-tech athletic complex that is adjacent to an international airport and a few miles from Downtown Albuquerque. The tennis complex eventually will be a strong draw for junior and adult events.
There are no plans -- yet -- to build a mountain on the South Campus for the Lobo skiers, but does anybody want a natatorium named after them?
The vision continues.