A rendering of the front of the VCU Basketball Complex.

A rendering of the front of the VCU Basketball Complex (click to enlarge).

RICHMOND, Va. – The VCU Basketball Complex, a state-of-the-art, multimillion dollar practice facility, returned the forefront Monday with the announcement of a $3 million donation toward the project from MeadWestvaco (MWV). Artist renderings of the outside of the complex were also released publicly for the first time (see here).

Monday afternoon, VCU Director of Athletics Ed McLaughlin said the department hopes to break ground on the facility this spring or summer and would take approximately 20 months to complete. The total cost of the project has not been finalized. The complex will be located primarily on what is known as the UU Lot adjacent the Stuart C. Siegel Center, the Sports Medicine Building and the Bowe Street parking deck. McLaughlin said the partnership with MWV has brought the practice facility one step closer to reality.

“In terms of a start, it’s a tremendous start for us,” McLaughlin said. “It really gets the momentum going as well. People look and say, ‘this practice facility is going to be real’, and it is, and before it was thought about how great it would be to have one. And this makes it real.”

The VCU Basketball Complex will replace Franklin Street Gym, which has served as the primary practice home for the Rams’ men’s team since the early days of Anthony Grant’s tenure in 2006. It also serves as an occasional practice venue for women’s hoops, volleyball and others. In recent years, VCU has taken steps to upgrade Franklin Street Gym, but the new facility is clearly on a different level, one which could be a centerpiece in recruiting.

“It is, next to Coach [Shaka] Smart and our student-athletes, it’s the most important piece of our program and it will be moving forward,” McLaughlin added. “If you look at the success without having it that we’ve been able to have…I think the sky’s the limit for us as a program having this facility.”

The donation from MWV is the largest in the history of the VCU Department of Athletics and will be paid over a 10-year period. It is the first major pledge announced toward the new practice facility, but surely won’t be the last.

“It’s a huge help. It shows commitment. It shows how important a facility like this is for a program,” McLaughlin said. “And a corporation like MeadWestvaco, who’s a tremendous community partner in Richmond, they see the value in it, so when people who know business see value in it, that helps you a lot.”

MeadWestvaco is a Richmond-based paper, packaging and office-product giant that employs more than 20,000 and may be best known for its Mead, Five Star and Cambridge paper products. The company formed in 2002 as the result of a merger between Mead and Westvaco in 2002.