The storied Stokely Athletic Center — where the "Ernie and Bernie Show" drew sellout crowds in the mid-1970s, the Lady Vols played their first championship season in 1987, and Elvis Presley performed three months before his death — will move a step closer to demolition today.
University of Tennessee officials will ask the State Building Commission at its monthly meeting in Nashville for approval to raze the 54-year-old gymnasium, which would be replaced with a parking lot.
The earliest the building would come down would be next year, said Chris Cimino, vice chancellor for finance and administration. Athletic Department administration, ROTC programs and an alumni call center all still work in the building but will move out by Dec. 31, said Cimino.
1958 — Vols open the UT Armory-Fieldhouse with a 72-71 win over Wyoming on Dec. 2.
1966 — The venue undergoes a $2.6 million renovation, paid in part by William B. Stokely Jr., the gymnasium's new namesake. The Vols won their first 23 games in the building.
1969 — Janis Joplin plays on Nov. 8 to a sellout crowd at Stokely.
1972 — Elvis plays in Knoxville for the first time ever at venue, giving fans two shows in one day on April 8.
1974 — Elvis returns for a show at Stokely on March 15. Top-tier tickets sold for $10.
1974-1977 — The high-scoring Ernie Grunfield and Bernard King put on "The Ernie and Bernie Show," leading UT to some of its best seasons in history.
1977 — Three months before his death, on May 20, Elvis plays his final show in Knoxville.
1983 — Stokely hosts the famous NCAA "Dream Game," where rival Louisville beat Kentucky in the regional final of the tournament on March 26.
1987 — Tony White scores 51 points, the most ever by a Vol in a single game, against Auburn on Feb. 14.
1987 — The Lady Vols, coached by Pat Summitt, win their first national championship with the team's first three games played at Stokely.
"Once it's approved this week, we will enter into an agreement with a contractor to help us identify what that timeline is and what complications there might be — we know there's asbestos in the building, which will increase cost of demolition," Cimino said. "We still have quite a bit of planning to do."
The university has estimated the demolition at about $5.5 million, according to the agenda for today's commission meeting. Cimino, however, said those figures are preliminary and that the school still has to come up with the funding.
The state does not provide capital money for demolitions, he said.
Long-term plans for the 1.2 acres where Stokely sits, on the corner of Lake Loudon and Volunteer boulevards, include two academic buildings and possibly a parking garage. That plan could be as far as 15 to 20 years in the future, and the site will be turned into a parking lot in the meantime.
The university considered tearing down the buildings when the fire marshal determined in 2007 its safety systems were not up to code, including a lack of sprinklers, poor exit paths in case of a fire, guardrail safety concerns, and stairwell deficiencies, Cimino said.
At the time, it was estimated upgrades to bring the building to code would about $1 million, he said.
The university reached an agreement with the fire marshal to completely vacate the building by the end of 2012.
Stokely first opened in 1958 as the UT Armory-Fieldhouse, and it underwent a $2.6 million renovation in 1966, funded in part by William B. Stokely Jr.
Between 1967 and 1977, the men's basketball team won three SEC championships, including one with the help of star players Ernie Grunfeld and Bernard King, No. 2 and No. 7 on UT's all-time leading scorers list, respectively.
Elvis played the venue in 1972, 1974 and shortly before his death in 1977. Stokely also hosted other big acts, including Janis Joplin and Kenny Rogers.
As it moves toward demolition, the university is considering how to preserve the building's history, Cimino said.
"It's always part of any building demolition we do — to look at any historical artifacts and or materials in the facility to see how might be able to re-purpose them," Cimino said, adding that the Athletic Department will play a role in the preservation.
"There's the gymnasium component of this, but also other things throughout building, whether they be photos, historical markings, plaques or otherwise, that are looked at for historical value kept for the university or held on to for auctions."
UT has sold parts of turf in Neyland Stadium and has offered other commemorative mementos during renovations, something the school will likely look at again, he said.