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June 24, 1999

Alum gives $10 million toward new center for athletics & recreation

Alum gives $10 million toward new center for athletics & recreation

Pitt's long-awaited athletics and recreation complex, expected to open on campus in 2002, now has a name.

The John M. and Gertrude E. Petersen Events Center, to be built on the site of Pitt Stadium, was christened by University officials at a press conference June 22.

The combined basketball/special events arena and student recreation center is projected to cost $69 million. Of that amount, $38 million in state money is earmarked for the project. Alumnus John Petersen and his wife Gertrude have contributed $10 million more.

Hailing the donation as the largest single gift by individuals in Pitt history, Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg said the Petersens are among the University's "most active, loyal and generous friends." Besides contributing to the athletics/recreation complex, the Petersens have supported scholarships in the College of Business Administration, he said.

Additionally, the University announced a $1 million gift for construction of the Willis Center for Academics for student-athletes' use, and a $500,000 gift for the Emmaline D. Barco Band Complex, both to be housed in the new Petersen facility.

A 1951 Pitt graduate with a degree in business administration, Petersen lettered as a swimmer and diver. He is retired president and CEO of the Erie Insurance Group, which he continues to serve as investment consultant.

Active in Erie community affairs, Petersen supports the United Way, the Boy Scouts, the public library, public television and the arts. He continues to serve on the board of directors of Erie Indemnity Company.

Before joining the Erie Insurance Group, he was an accountant with General Electric Co. in Fairfield, Ct.

"My wife and I feel fortunate to be able to do what we have," Petersen said. "We made a commitment that when we pass away there will not be a dime of what we have that goes to the federal government," he said, adding that his will leaves everything to charity. "The current administration at the University is outstanding, and we're delighted to be involved."

The Petersen center will host commencement ceremonies and other special events and be permanent home to the men's and women's basketball teams. Construction will begin following demolition of Pitt Stadium after this fall's football season.

Student housing and green space are also planned on the 11-acre Pitt Stadium site.

Pitt athletics director Steve Pederson unveiled a model of the new building and architect George Bushey of Rosser International of Atlanta, Ga., led a "virtual tour" of the building's interior. The Rosser firm is co-designer with Apostolou Associates of Pittsburgh.

Bushey said the main entrance to the arena section will face DeSoto Street, while the entrance to the student recreation area will be from Sutherland Drive. There is a 95-ft. elevation difference between the two entrances, and escalators and elevators are planned to link the building's two main components, he said.

Pederson said seating features of the new arena will include:

* 12,500 total seats, all with chair backs;

* 2,000 club seats, with access to a concourse-level club lounge;

* 48 VIP courtside seats;

* 12 luxury club-level suites;

* 4 courtside luxury boxes located on the basketball floor behind the team benches;

* 1 luxury events courtside suite behind the scorer's table, with seating up to 40, to be rented on a game-by-game basis.

In addition to the Willis center and the Barco band complex, the Petersen Center will house athletics administration offices, a basketball practice court, a Panthers sporting goods and memorabilia store, a row of restaurants, nine concession areas with 66 points of sale, and men's and women's restroom facilities totaling 274.

The recreation center will include fitness and weight rooms, racquetball courts and a warm-up track.

–Peter Hart

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