‘A new era in Cincinnati athletics’: UC breaks ground on new indoor practice facility, performance center

Multi-million-dollar project ushers in entrance to the Big 12 Conference

CINCINNATI — University of Cincinnati director of athletics John Cunningham stepped up to the podium Tuesday and welcomed in a new era of athletics on the campus.

Just a week after UC announced the renderings for its new indoor practice facility and athletics performance center, it took time to officially break ground on the multi-million-dollar project.

“This facility which will soon begin to rise from the ground behind us will be best in class,” Cunningham said. “It will give the Bearcats unrivaled advantages in competition and on the recruiting trail. It will enhance every aspect of our athletics program.”

Cunningham along with UC president Neville Pinto were joined on the stage by lead donors Larry and Rhonda Sheakley. The project’s development included the largest gift in UC athletics history from Larry and Rhonda Sheakley.

Larry Sheakley, wearing a UC hat at the podium, mentioned how his family is firmly committed to the Bearcats and its athletics programs. He mentioned how UC athletics has a significant impact to the campus community and the city.

The practice facility and adjacent performance center will be built on the current site of the Sheakley Athletic Center. The construction site was active Tuesday morning before the ceremony.

“Whenever you move dirt it means that you are moving forward,” Cunningham said in an interview. “I had someone tell me one time if you don’t have a crane up in the air you’re dying. Well, there is a lot of cranes up in the air around here. And that just means that we have a lot of momentum when we’re going the right direction.”

Pinto emphasized this project is a significant fit for UC’s entrance into the Big 12 Conference which takes place July 1. Pinto and Cunningham said there is plenty of anticipation about UC’s transition to the Big 12.

“It’s massive,” Cunningham said. “We’re so excited across the board with all of our sports. We understand what that level is and what it takes. We’re going to continue to invest now so we continue to be ready to compete at that level. A lot of momentum around that and a lot of momentum around the Power Five with a great (Big 12) commissioner in Brett Yormark and everything that the Big 12 is doing. We’re in a great spot.”

The 84,000-square-foot indoor practice facility, which will include a 120-yard football field, will be used by all 18 UC teams. It is scheduled to open by the fall of 2024.

The 96,000-square-foot performance center will be built next to the practice facility. The center will include football program offices, a dining hall, weight room, nutrition stations, athletic training room and mental health services. It is scheduled to be ready by the fall of 2025.

“It’s so important,” Cunningham said. “Ever since I started in January 2020 this was the facility that everybody talked about. It’s fitting of the program that we have in terms of our football program and all of our sports because all 18 of our sports are going to use this facility. And I think the other really neat thing that I think is going to be a game-changer is the nutrition center that will now fuel all of our student-athletes. That’s Big 12 level, that’s Power Five level - that’s something we needed to get to. It can only do because of our fan base and our donors that support us.”

WCPO is a news partner of Cox First Media.

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