PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Bob West

February 14, 2013

Best of West: Lamar moving up with completion of Montagne Center

PORT ARTHUR — Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on Nov. 22, 1984.

BEAUMONT — Workers continue laboring away at tasks inside and outside the gleaming white edifice rising high above Cardinal Stadium. Seats on the building’s floor are still being assembled. A large group of women employee remains had at work wiping off dust that’s collected for months inside the spacious arena.

Seventy-two hours before Lamar University unveils the long-awaited Montagne Center, many finishing touches are yet to be completed. But the doubt is gone now. The hump has been cleared. The Cardinals are going to open in their new palace Saturday night.

Good-bye Beaumont Civic Center. And good riddance.

Several years after the Cardinals established their right to dwell among college basketball’s elite, they’re taking up residence in surroundings more suitable to their success. LU has bade farewell to the low-rent district, has departed a neighborhood it outgrew long ago.

The Cardinals, as Lamar sports information director Rush Wood so cleverly depicts with tuxedo-clad players on the cover of Saturday night’s souvenir programs, are “Movin’ on Up.” Like televisions Jeffersons, they’ve finally got a piece of the pie.

In one word, the Montagne Center is a showpiece. It’s not the Superdrum, nor The Summit, but for the price — approximately $12.5 million — and construction time (17 months), it’s a jewel. As an entertainment facility, nothing in Jefferson County comes close to it.

To Cardinal fans used to the rinky dink Beaumont Civic Center, with its terrible sight lines, the contrast promises to be stunning. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house. Some, of course, are better than others, but all afford a reasonably good view.

Lamar officials are understandably proud of the Montagne Center. And they’re most anxious to hear the public’s reaction.

“Without question, it’s a major league arena,” gushes Cardinal athletic director and head basketball coach Pat Foster. “I’m prejudiced, but I have to  admit when I walk in there the building hits me with a greater impact than I ever imagined.

“It’s above and beyond what I hoped for and what I thought we’d get. For what we spent, it’s amazing. I’d never want to be involved in something like this again, because you can’t imagine the headaches. But seeing the end results make a lot of it worthwhile. I can’t hide the fact I’m pretty excited.”

When the doors open Saturday evening, the Montagne Center’s seating capacity will be slightly over 8,000. By season’s end, when additional rows are added at the top, capacity swells to 10,200, or roughly the same as Hofheinz Pavilion in Houston.

Because of the sunken-in design, and close-to-the-floor seating, it could become one of college basketball’s most deafening pits.

A sea of red surrounding a shiny hardwood floor, the Cadinals’ new playpen offers much in the way of creature comforts for the fans. For openers, the space between rows promises to be  a joy for anybody over 6 feet tall. No more scrunching, considerably fewer contortions when the guy down the way needs to heed nature’s call.

Speaking of nature’s call, and we might as well since long lines in restrooms are almost as much a part of sporting events as the players, waiting time should be noticeably less at the Montagne Center. Each of the ladies’ rooms are equipped with 22 toilets. The two men’s rooms have 15 urinals plus five toilets.

There are four main concessions areas, strategically stationed so no fan need walk more than half the length of a concourse for food or drink. Twelve water fountains are also available and, for those in need of feeding Southwestern Bell, 20 pay phones await your quarters.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Lamar chancellor C. Robert Kemble, after being given an official tour with the school’s regents Thursday morning. “I think it’s an absolutely gorgeous arena. Short of finding serious flaws that aren’t obvious, it comes as close to early perceptions as anything I’ve ever been involved with.

“I think it’s going to become a major asset to Lamar University in Southeast Texas. The potential for what can be done with it is enormous. Hopefully, it can become a rallying point for this entire area. We’ve got so much divisiveness in the Golden Triangle. We need something to bring us together.”

Pleased as he is with the Montagne Center, Foster says he’ll be surprised if there is not a certain amount of fault found with it.

“I expect 90 percent of those who walk in here Saturday night will be pleasantly surprised and very complimentary. But you’re always going to have the other 10 percent. We’ll get some criticism, which will probably be legitimate. I know we’re going to get complaints over the railings. In places, they’re too high. We know that. But they’re built to state specifications.

“What we’re doing is like moving into a new home. As an owner, you love it so much you can’t see the flaws that somebody not so attached might spot. I remember after we renovated Barnhill Arena at the University of Arkansas. We were so proud of it we were about to burst.

“The only problem was that when we opened it, blacktop work wasn’t finished in the parking lot. We were playing Texas on a rainy night and Abe Lemons had to walk through some mud. You know Abe. His quote in the paper the next day was that it was the first time he ever had to take a shower before the game.”

Oh, well, Lemons won’t be at the Montagne Center Saturday night.

Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at rdwest@usa.net.

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