Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Tyson family donates $6 million toward indoor track renovation
An artist's rendering shows Randal Tyson Track Center in Fayetteville following a proposed renovation to the facility.
FAYETTEVILLE The John Tyson family has donated $6 million toward the renovation of Randal Tyson Track Center on the University of Arkansas campus.
The announcement of the donation came three weeks after the renovation and two other construction projects were approved by UA trustees. The UA board also approved the building of a baseball operations center adjacent to Baum Stadium and the building of a track & field operations center adjacent to John McDonnell Field, on the northwest lawn of Bud Walton Arena.
The renovations to the Tyson Center are the most complicated of the three projects. The proposed renovation will cost between $15 million and $20 million and would entirely reconfigure the layout of the facility that opened in 2000.
Don Tyson donated $3 million toward the $8 million construction of the facility in August 1998. It was named for his brother, Randal.
“Since legendary Razorback Track & Field Coach John McDonnell first approached my dad to support the initial construction of the track center, that opened on campus in January 2000, our family has been committed to supporting the championship track and field programs at the University of Arkansas,” said John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, Inc., a former UA trustee and son of the late Don Tyson. “Investing in the renovation and expansion of the Randal Tyson Track Center will ensure it remains one of the world’s top track and field venues while also helping the Razorbacks to recruit and retain the most talented track and field student-athletes from around the globe.”
As part of the proposal, the east wall of the facility would be knocked down and rebuilt to expand the size of the building. Seats, which currently sit in a square configuration around the oval track, would be reinstalled to wrap around the track, and a new concourse would be built toward the top of the facility so that spectators would walk down to their seats instead of up bleachers.
The renovation also would include new club-seating areas, and additional bathrooms and concession stands for fans, and a new press box on the south side. For athletes, on-site locker rooms would be built underneath the elevated seating, eliminating the need for athletes to be in uniform when they arrive to the facility.
“Our vision is to not have square seating and create better sight lines,” Arkansas men’s track & field coach Chris Bucknam said in September. “We believe we have one of the fastest tracks in the world … but we would like to improve the fan experience.”
A construction timeline is not known, but the goal is to have the renovation complete in time for the 2021 NCAA Indoor Championships that will be held at the facility, which will be Arkansas’ 13th time to host.
The Razorbacks are scheduled to host the SEC Indoor Championships for the ninth time in February, and could become a more frequent host for conference meets because of more stringent guidelines for host sites that were voted on by SEC athletics directors earlier this year.
The seating reconfiguration will be the second renovation to the facility in recent years. In 2014, the original north wall of the facility was knocked down to connect the track center with the $9.6 million Fowler Center, a 52,000-square-foot training facility for the baseball and track programs.
The Fowler Center includes an area for indoor throwing competitions, which previously were held in the Razorbacks’ indoor football center more than a mile away.
The Tyson donation is the second large-scale contribution announced by the university this week. On Tuesday, the UA announced that the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation donated $5 million toward the construction of the baseball operations center.
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