The $170 million Nido and Mariana Qubein Arena & Conference Center is opening next week on the High Point University campus with a variety of festivities including a concert by San Francisco rock band Train.
The project reflects the vision of High Point President Nido Qubein, who showed me around the building this week as furniture was arriving and final touches were being applied.
It is an audacious project combining a 4,500-seat basketball arena, 30-room boutique hotel and a convention center capable of hosting more than 2,500 attendees in one coherent structure. There’s nothing comparable in U.S. academia, says Qubein, who has thrown his heart — and $10 million — into the project.
He showed me one of the four visitors’ locker rooms, the hotel’s presidential suite, basketball coach Tubby Smith’s office, the loading area with four docks for truck trailers and many other parts of the building.
The basketball arena is impressive with a massive scoreboard, lots of donor-sponsored suites and open entrance areas that contrast with the traditional small entry hallways at most stadiums.
But the arena and athletics is just a piece of a complex that Qubein stresses will be heavily used by students, their parents, faculty, staff and the High Point community. It will create many business experiences and opportunities for students involved in helping operate the site, he says.
Qubein’s background as a successful motivational speaker helps explain the project’s unusual scope. He has given more than 7,500 presentations in many major conference centers and flown through virtually every major world airport. He says those experiences give him a unique perspective for designing public space, while he says is incorporated at the new building.
Such a facility wasn’t on Qubein’s mind when he became High Point president in 2005. He was focused on repairing aging buildings and boosting revenues that totaled less than $60 million. Now, the university is taking in about $350 million annually, including about half from tuition, he says. The balance comes from food, housing and other concessions and donations from a large pool of alumni, parents and friends. Since his arrival, High Point has received 17 gifts of more than $10 million, helping spur surges in enrollment, buildings and community impact. About 2,000 employees assist nearly 6,000 students with enrollment gaining 4.5% this year and 5.6% a year earlier.
“You need a Rolodex of people who believe in your mission. It’s not just about giving money,” he says.
The new facility is opening debt-free after funding from hundreds of donors. Each hotel room is sponsored for four-year terms, including some parents who want first dibs on staying on campus when visiting their children. They will pay a nightly fee on top of their donation, Qubein says.
The buildings’ general contractors are Michigan-based Christman Company, which has a specialty in arenas, and Greensboro-based Samet Corp., which has built about 10 structures at High Point.
More construction is ahead at High Point, which again ranked as a No. 1 regional college this week in U.S. News & World’s annual rankings of universities. Qubein, 73, who has a long-term employment contract, is looking at more than $350 million in capital programs for new dental, law and other programs over the next few years. The college has less than $200 million in debt, says Qubein, who has served on the board of Truist Financial and its predecessors for 30 years.
Underlining the growth, he says, is High Point’s unapologetic emphasis on traditional values, which he said is leading to an increasingly diverse student body. The university now has several hundred Jewish students, versus a handful when he arrived, he says.
“We are a school that believes in America and the very values that built this nation in the first place,” he says. “Don’t underestimate that.”