More than 5,000 rock music fans, including non-students, recently lined up to see Train in East Tennessee State University’s Mini Dome, and the school president hopes more community members will discover or rediscover the school.
The popular rock band from San Francisco performed hits to thunderous applause from not only students but the public as well April 26.
Student concerts, funded through student fees, are regularly held at ETSU, but when Train came it was the first time that a student-sponsored concert had been opened to the public.
This kind of public engagement will be standard procedure for the university going forward, as recommended by the Committee for 125. This committee was formed in 2012 to develop a plan and vision for the school through 2036, the year ETSU turns 125.
In fact, ETSU President Brian Noland said recently he wants to encourage everyone in the region to visit ETSU and enjoy all the facilities available at the university.
“It’s just, how do we take the pieces that we have on campus and open them up to the community as a whole, be it fine and performing arts, be it baseball, be it a lecture series or be it the Train concert,” Noland said. “So it’s all part of a broad effort to try to get the community re-engaged with ETSU.”
ETSU’s Thomas Stadium, a new state-of-the-art baseball field, could be the venue for outdoor movie screenings this summer, said Michael White, assistant athletic director for communications.
“It’s very visible,” White said of the stadium’s massive scoreboard that would be used for displaying movies. “That’s kind of the whole point of its size. And you’re talking about a large space, a large area to place people in.”
White did not have firm dates on when movies could be seen at Thomas Stadium, though he did say at least one movie could be seen before the end of baseball season.
And when it comes to baseball itself, earlier this spring a Little League clinic was held at Thomas Stadium that was attended by 250 children and at least as many parents.
Noland said university officials are in negotiations with the Johnson City Cardinals to arrange for that team to play a few games at Thomas Stadium.
“I think they are going to play three games there this year,” Noland said. “And hopefully that goes well. I think short term and long term we’d like to deepen our connections with the Cardinals. It’s a beautiful park.”
Plans are to make the stadium more expansive than it is now.
Noland said a request for proposal will be put out soon seeking development around the baseball stadium.
That development calls for possible hotel and retail space near the stadium. Offices would also be made.
“So you’re taking what is right now real estate that is owned by the university that is just sitting there,” Noland said. “This would allow us to work with local developers and to take that real estate and generate tax revenue from it, both in terms of restaurant sales as well as if this were a hotel or other commercial use. It starts to build out that park. So that park then becomes something that is used more than just for ETSU.”
Perhaps high school teams from across the region could compete in championships there, Noland said.
But ETSU administrators hope to engage the community with more than baseball. White said plans are being made to use the school’s soccer field, softball field and new tennis facility.
“We are looking at using all of our new facilities in ways that the university can reach out and engage the community,” White said. “Basically, across the board in athletics, it’s our charge now to use the facilities we have and engage Johnson City and the surrounding area.”
White added that besides athletics, the university is committed to providing educational and cultural opportunities using all facilities.
“So whether it’s Train in the Mini Dome or an art exhibit in the Reece Museum or a movie screening in the baseball field ... we want the entire community to come and enjoy our campus,” he said.
Once a new fine and performing arts center is built at ETSU, there will be plenty of space to showcase cultural aspects of ETSU and to also bring in performers from around the nation and world.
Noland announced in February a $3 million lead gift from Jim Martin, who has given millions of dollars to ETSU for the arts, to go toward a fundraising campaign for the fine and performing arts center.
In his proposed 2013-14 budget, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam recommended approval for ETSU to use $1.5 million to begin planning for the arts center, which is projected to cost between $38 million and $40 million. ETSU will be required to fund 25 percent of that project.
“As we’ve said all along, it’s a building that is as much a building for ETSU as it is a facility for the community as a whole,” Noland said. “And I think that extends not only to this facility. It’s what we’re trying to get with a feel across campus as a whole.”
Noland said more and more opportunities for the public to revisit ETSU will be coming, and in large part are already occurring on campus.
“All of this is one of the things coming out of (the Committee for) 125, which is, ‘How do we deepen our connections with the community as a whole so that they have an opportunity to discover and rediscover the great things that are happening across campus?’ ” Noland asked. “How do we take the resources that we have and open them up so that more folks are able to take advantage of the things that are right here in their backyard?”