More than once, I banged my kneecap on a drop-cloth-covered desk positioned, temporarily, in the hallway of our house.
A remodeling project early this year forced my wife and I to move furniture from its normal location elsewhere, until the work was done. Our place looked better when the job was completed. The floors, walls and ceilings will last longer, as a result.
Good things need refurbished occasionally, maintained constantly and used regularly. A classic car should be driven from time to time.
Hulman Center hasn’t stopped being utilized since it opened for an Indiana State University men’s basketball game on Dec. 14, 1973. Its 174,000 square feet of space has been used for everything from Sycamore men’s and women’s hoops to high school games, middle-schoolers’ Snowball dances, community yard sales, concerts, theatrical productions, public forums, weddings, funerals, home improvement programs, job fairs, monster truck shows and “Sesame Street Live.”
The building that bears the name of its late benefactors, Tony and Mary Hulman, has received a few necessary updates in the past 46 years.
Still, the 10,000-seat facility’s finishes, exterior and building systems remained “original,” as antique car collectors would say. Its ability to attract many of those aforementioned events waned partly as a result of the center’s aging.
Change is underway. Beginning with Saturday’s ISU men’s home opener, Wabash Valley residents will get an in-progress glimpse of a $50-million renovation project that should extend Hulman Center’s lifespan and breathe new vigor and activity into the place. The two-year project is at its halfway point and “on schedule” to be completed late next year.
Construction crews will pause duties during the Sycamore men’s and women’s games, and commencement exercises. Parts of the building will be inaccessible because of the work, but Hulman Center will continue to be used while it’s also being modernized. Plastic tarps and plywood may be visible for awhile. The center’s ability to remain functional throughout its most comprehensive changes speaks to the structure’s built-in versatility.
Bryan Duncan walked a handful of journalists around the north entrance exterior, through a portion of the interior concourse halls and inside the main bowl Tuesday morning. Duncan works as ISU’s director of capital planning and improvements. Hulman Center’s makeover is a prime example of capital planning and improvement.
“It’s always been a multipurpose facility,” Duncan said, “and we want to continue to give it that flexibility.” His own background with Hulman Center dates back to his days as a Terre Haute North High School student. Duncan remembers the facility’s rich concert legacy. His personal favorite was a 1980s show by rockers 38 Special.
Now, he’s overseeing the renovation of that same building, an effort fueled by a state investment of $37.5 million committed to the project by the Legislature in 2015.
The project originally included a new convention center adjoining Hulman Center. That ideal plan broke into two parts, though, with the university pursuing alone the Hulman Center makeover, and city and county entities seeking the convention center. The side-by-side facilities would’ve been best, but both projects are moving forward nonetheless.
Hulman Center’s changes include 10,000 square feet of additional inside space added to its concourse halls. Restrooms and concession areas will no longer overlap. The south entrance will gain 6,500 square feet, allowing multipurpose space for meetings, pep rallies and dinners overlooking the main floor. Twenty-first-century technology has been added. The last of the 1973-era orange and yellow seats will be replaced with blue ones. The weathered, rusty exterior skin has given way to blue-gray metal panels and tall glass windows. Sound-absorbing walls inside will improve acoustics.
And the main bowl and basketball court has brightened, thanks to new LED lighting.
Each upgrade strengthens Hulman Center’s ability to recapture its niche as the Wabash Valley’s premier gathering place, and put itself back on the radar of national concert and theatrical production promoters. A brand-new Hulman Center hosted 95 concerts in its first five years of operations.
A roomier, renovated, modernized Hulman Center can appeal to a variety of performers — not just male country singers — on a par with Evansville, South Bend, Fort Wayne, Bloomington and Carmel. This moment in time is ripe for a concerted push back into that realm, given the ongoing construction of Terre Haute’s new downtown convention center, parking garage and a hotel. Convention-goers will be looking for entertainment nearby, not just through a road trip to the new east-side casino. Hulman Center can be that destination.
Even just at the halfway point of its refurbishment, Hulman Center looks sharper, more contemporary. That style should endure a long time.
“A lot of this building lasted from 1973 — 40 years,” Duncan said. “So, the hope is that we get another 45 years out of this building.”
As he led the touring group through the expanded northwest corner of the concourse hallway, Duncan pointed to the spot on the floor where the new flooring area subtly joins the original.
“This is 1973 terrazzo,” he said. “It’ll last forever, if it’s properly maintained.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.