Duquesne’s Dambrot, Burt Excited for New Arena

$45 million renovation to Palumbo Center begins in March

Josh Rowntree
October 23, 2018 - 3:10 pm
Duquesne's AJ Palumbo Center in 2018

Josh Rowntree - 93.7 The Fan


Duquesne University on Tuesday announced plans for a massive overhaul to the athletic facilities on the school’s campus, with a total remodel and renaming of the A.J. Palumbo Center. 

Ground will be broken on the new arena, which will be known as the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse, in March. The project should be finished by the 2020-2021 athletic season. 

“I think it’s a game changer, no question,” men’s basketball coach Keith Dambrot said. “I think the player development piece is huge. But, by the same token, it’s still a people business. So we have to do our job. We have to win games before this building is built. If we can build momentum as the building is built, I think we can take a big jump.”

The building will be named for legendary Duquesne basketball player Chuck Cooper, who became the first African-American to be drafted in the NBA. Cooper was a consensus All-American in 1950 and went on to play professionally from 1950-1956. 

“To have it named after Chuck Cooper was the icing on the cake because Chuck Cooper has not received the recognition that he has deserved as, really, one of the pioneers of breaking the race barrier in professional sports,” Duquesne President Ken Gormley said. 

Copper’s son, Chuck Cooper III, spoke during the presentation and perhaps gave a lasting nickname for the new arena, saying that he can’t wait to see players “take it to the hoop in the Coop.”

“I think that’s going to be fantastic,” women’s basketball coach Dan Burt said. “I’ve seen a lot of the visuals, and that’s fantastic, but to honor Chuck Cooper I think is a really great thing.”

Burt’s team is about to embark on an exciting season, picked on Tuesday to finish first in the Atlantic 10 Conference. And now a new, state-of-the-art facility will do nothing but enhance the buzz around his program.

“We’ve really been planning for this in advance. We’ve had quite a bit of materials that we’ve been able to show recruits without giving it to them,” Burt said. “So the kids who have committed to us have a really good understanding of what’s going to happen over the next 18-24 months and they’re really excited about it.”

The project is estimated to cost $45 million and will be done in multiple phases. On top of the redevelopment of the arena, Duquesne also will embark on a variety of other building initiatives, including an indoor practice facility that will be used by multiple athletic programs. A practice and player development center and a sports performance center will be added to the Uptown campus.

“Without investment, it’s hard for your family to grow,” Dambrot said. “So you have to feed your family and that’s what they’ve done with this building.”

In his first season as coach last year, Dambrot was able to show a glimpse of what could be at Duquesne. The team went 13-6 at the Palumbo Center and welcomes a host of new players to the roster for this coming season.

“This is going to be a ferocious place to play, if it’s done the way I know it’s going to be done,” Dambrot said. “And it’s going to be a very difficult place to play. And really, to turn programs around, you have to win at home.”

“I think people are taking note,” Gormley said of the overall enhancement of the athletic department. “Obviously, our women’s swimming and diving team just won the A-10 championship for the first time in our history. The women’s basketball team is just fabulous. The men’s basketball team, wait until people see them this year, is all I can say. 

“So this is the start of something old and something new in Pittsburgh.”

Hear all of what Keith Dambrot and Dan Burt had to say below.