An Events Center for a New Era

“The new O’Connell Center and Exactech Arena lift this facility to the highest level of events centers – those that become their own attractions because they enhance and exalt everything within them,” President Kent Fuchs said at the center’s dedication ceremony in January.

An Events Center for a New Era

Friends, alumni, supporters and colleagues: Good afternoon!  It is a delight to be with you for this celebration ceremony!

Our emcee, Randy Wright, mentioned that the original O’Connell Center had an inflatable fabric roof.  What he didn’t say was that adventurous students used to scale the arena at night to repurpose the roof as a slide and a trampoline, achieving the world’s highest bounces!

I was first told about this by a certain UF alumnus and member of the board of the Athletic Association … who absolutely, most definitely, never participated himself.  Actually, according to an old article from The Alligator, so many students enjoyed themselves on the inflatable roof that the activity acquired its own verb.

The students didn’t call it bouncing; they called it … “O’Connelling.”

Well, today we jump for joy … but from the ground, I must insist, … in celebration of this amazing revitalization!

On the day the new center opened in December with its centerpiece Exactech Arena, I celebrated with thousands of proud parents as their children graduated in three beautiful fall commencement ceremonies.  Since then, I’ve been thrilled to be among Gator fans cheering on UF athletes in four basketball games, and we have gymnastics tonight, men’s basketball tomorrow, and women’s basketball Sunday.

My experience leaves me with this impression: The new center and new Exactech Arena lift this facility to the highest level of events centers – those that become their own attractions because they enhance and exalt everything within them.

This is an important development for the University of Florida because the center is home to so many signature events that define the UF experience.

Not only our championship Gator sporting events …  

Not only the university’s spring, fall and summer commencements …

But also career fairs that bring hundreds of representatives of the world’s biggest corporations to Gainesville …

The annual Dance Marathon in support of the Children’s Miracle Network, one of the top Dance Marathons in the country …

Numerous university and guest events, from major concerts and shows to national competitions to festivals, conventions and gatherings.

In a typical year, 60 percent of events involve athletics, with the balance comprising an incredibly diverse array of university, community and national events.

No arena as large and important as this one could be built in a year or two. And, in fact, the planning for the original center began in the late 1960s under President J. Wayne Reitz.

As Randy noted, these efforts continued with the advocacy of President Stephen C. O’Connell, whose achievements as UF’s sixth president were recognized when it was completed and named in his honor in 1980. At that time, the O’Connell Center was one of only two such events arenas in the entire state of Florida.

Similarly, this beautiful revitalization would not have happened without the commitment and advocacy of UF President Emeritus Bernie Machen and Emeritus Athletic Director Jeremy Foley.

And now our Athletic Director, Scott Stricklin, and I benefit from their vision, work, and commitment.

We are so deeply grateful to Exactech, Inc. for their generous support making possible Exactech Arena. I have had the privilege of spending time with Exactech President & CEO, David Petty, and am so impressed with his company.  Also, we are very grateful to our many other donors.

I further want to acknowledge and thank Chip Howard, executive associate athletics director for internal affairs, and Lynda Reinhart, director of the O’Connell Center, for all the work they put into this project, along with their teams.  Thank you Chip and Lynda!

The O’Connell Center’s original inflatable roof was replaced in a previous renovation, and students haven’t bounced up there at night for many years. But with the new center and this new arena, I hope you’ll all agree that the University of Florida has now jumped to the stars. Thank you!