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Texas could still partner with city of Austin on new basketball venue

How Steve Patterson navigates the funding and construction of the next Horns hoops facility will help define his legacy.

The Erwin Center
The Erwin Center
Wescott Eberts (SB Nation)

Months after calling for the city to help fund the next Texas Longhorns basketball facility, it looks like athletic director Steve Patterson could actually get his wish -- new Austin mayor Steve Adler told the Austin American-Statesman that he's open-minded about the process.

"A large entertainment venue would bring a lot of benefits to the city, but how it would be done remains to be seen," he said. "I'm not opposed to anything. I'd keep everything on the table. It should be part of larger conversations."

Indeed, there's not currently another indoor venue in Austin that can host major musical acts seeking to fill the nearly 18,000 seats the Erwin Center can accommodate for shows.

Since the decisions to retain or fire the coaches in the three biggest men's sports essentially made themselves to this point for Patterson, the construction of the Dell Medical School and the ripple effects on several important sports venues constitute the greatest challenges so far to the new head man of the highest revenue-producing athletic department in the nation.

None looms larger than the upcoming choice of where to situate the replacement for the Frank Erwin Center, what it will look like, and how it will receive the necessary funding.

Since 1977, the Erwin Center has been the home to Texas basketball and numerous special events, including concerts. When it was built, the price tag for the Drum was a modest $34 million and the facility was funded entirely by the university.

However, the Dell Medical School will result in the demolition of Club Erwin within the next several years, forcing Patterson to find another site.

With one of the major questions involving whether or not the city of Austin will provide funding for the enterprise. Patterson believes the city has reason to invest in a new facility.

"The reality is that Austin has had a free arena for 3 1/2 decades at no investment whatsoever," Patterson said last fall in an event hosted by Texas Monthly. "You look at the growth projections five years out, to be a top 25 market in this country and not to have an invested a nickel in an arena is a heck of a position for the city of Austin to be in.

"So perhaps we ought to be looking at all the constituent groups and how they contribute or invest in a facility going forward," Patterson added.

As ever, it's Patterson heartily advocating for what he believes are the university's best interests, just as he has done in what many consider to be rather tone-deaf ways when addressing the issue of paying athletes.

One of the reasons why Patterson wants city funding? The new venue will likely be extremely expensive to construct, with a price tag as high as $500 million, according to the athletic department head man, though he could be overestimating the cost to help secure funding.

Nebraska, for instance, was able to build the 15,147-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena for only $179 million in 2013, while Oregon became the first school to spend more $200 million on an on-campus facility when it opened Matthew Knight Arena in 2011. It seats 12,364.

Another concern for Patterson is that Texas is currently lagging behind its rivals in fundraising -- the Horns finished $50 million behind the Aggies in 2014. And behind Kansas State. On the positive side, the recent downturn in oil prices shouldn't impact the diverse set of donors for Texas, unlike conference rival Oklahoma, which reportedly delayed a $370 million football stadium renovation as a result.

Other than cost and funding, what Patterson has to consider and surely will consider is that access to campus and size also heavily influence the atmosphere at games, not exactly a strength of the venue often called the Hum Drum.

Will Patterson prioritize the experience of basketball fans with a fieldhouse students can easily walk to or will he instead emphasize creating an arena designed to host large crowds when top musical acts come to town? Will the city even end up helping out?

Ultimately, the result will greatly impact his legacy at Texas, even though the university is still six to eight years away from building the replacement to the Erwin Center.