The UMBC Event Center, which opened Feb. 3 in Baltimore, has been “transformational” for students at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.  (Courtesy Cannon Design)

The newest arena in Greater Baltimore provides a stop for midsize shows in the market, as well as upgrading the University of Maryland-Baltimore County's basketball facilities, project officials say.

The UMBC Event Center, capacity 5,500, is the new home of the Golden Retrievers, a Division I school and a member of the America East Conference. (Fun fact: The Chesapeake Bay retriever is Maryland's state dog).

The $85 million arena, which opened Feb. 3 for men's basketball, also fills a niche in the Baltimore-Washington market, which until recently, had few arenas of its size for live entertainment, said Bob Fatovic, a vice president with project architect Cannon Design.

“Four years ago, we did a feasibility study with Brailsford & Dunlavey on the team, which did the market research,” Fatovic said. “What we found is that there's nothing in Baltimore to attract medium-size events. There's [Royal Farms] Arena and Capital One Arena in D.C., but nothing really in between.”

OVG Facilities operates and books the building. In the early stages of operation, promoters have responded, said Tiffany Sun, OVG Facilities' general manager.  (OVG Facilities is a division of Oak View Group, which owns VenuesNow.)

To date, the arena has booked A Day to Remember (March 13) with special guests Papa Roach, Falling in Reverse and The Devil Wears Prada; Maze featuring Frankie Beverly (April 21); and the Festival of Praise tour, featuring gospel singers Fred Hammond and Marvin Sapp (May 12), in a special Mother's Day performance.

The Harlem Globetrotters play March 15 at the new building.

The project has been “transformational” for providing entertainment opportunities for the school's 13,000 students, Athletic Director Tim Hall said. Moving over from its old arena, 4,000-seat Retriever Activities Center, UMBC now boasts one of the top facilities among mid-major programs, Hall said.

“People say it's big time,” Hall said. “We don't have football, so basketball must be successful for our school to evolve. Our goal is to develop a strong fan base and continue to grow our program with new supporters. We take it seriously.”

For years, the Retrievers struggled on the court and drew crowds of less than 1,000 at their old arena, which opened in 1973. UMBC is playing much better this season and, as of last
week, it was 10-3 in the conference and 19-9 overall. The Retrievers drew a full crowd of 4,753 for the first game at their new arena before dropping off to 1,344 for the next game.

The school's vision extended to developing a multipurpose building and the best arena in the conference. The school looked closely at America East arenas in Binghamton and Stony Brook, plus Texas-Arlington and SMU's Moody Coliseum, which underwent a $40 million renovation about five years ago.

As part of the development process in Baltimore County, UMBC administrators looked closely at all four venues, Hall said.

The result is a single-concourse building split into two levels in a horseshoe bowl design, with no seats behind the stage, Fatovic said. There are 4,800 fixed seats and room for about 1,000 portable chairs on the floor for concerts. A curtain system for the upper deck cuts capacity to 2,500 for smaller shows.

For concerts specifically, there are wall and ceiling treatments for absorbing sound and a full rigging system.

The 172,000-square-foot facility includes practice facilities for men's and women's basketball and volleyball, an academic center and a strength and conditioning room, plus a sports medicine center. Athletes have access to those support spaces while events are going on at the arena, Hall said.

School officials opened the arena late this season to give fans a taste of the building and its amenities before marketing full season-ticket packages for the 2018-19 season. There were weather-related delays in construction, Fatovic said, and a 40-foot drop on one side of the site didn't make things easier for Barton Malow, the general contractor.

OVG Facilities hired Apex Marketing Group to sell the 60 club seats, situated midcourt in the upper level and tied to the Retriever Room, a 2,200-square-foot lounge behind those seats. Apex also has a deal to help sell advertising for both the venue and the athletic department, OVG officials said.

On its own, the athletic department is soliciting major donors for season-ticket packages that extend to a separate hospitality space, which will most likely be in the practice gym, Hall said. Season-ticket prices have not been determined for next season.

The school has been working with consultant Team Services to sell the arena's naming rights, but to date no deal has been signed. E.J. Narcise, a principal with Team Services, would not
say how much the school is asking for naming rights.

Towson University, another Baltimore-area school, signed a 10-year, $4.75 million deal with credit union SECU for its 5,200-seat arena, which opened in 2013. Team Services consulted on that agreement.