In 1973, plans for a new12,000-seat special events center were included in a projected $26.6 million campus expansion proposal. Originally referred to as the Special Events Center and nick-named the “Haskins Emporium,” the building was to facilitate UTEP basketball games and other athletic events, as well as concerts, academic gatherings, commencement ceremonies, Lyceum performances, and student events. In September 1973, the UT Board of Regents considered plans and specifications for the Center. During this meeting the board decided to move the location of the Center from a site just north of the Sun Bowl to a site northeast of the Sun Bowl which would save $1 million in excavating costs.
Construction of the Special Events Center was underway in 1975 and was expected to be completed by September 1976; however, by June 1976 the projected completion date was moved back to January 1977. The basketball athletes, coaches, and fans were anxiously awaiting the opening of the Center because the new facility would be able to accommodate the fans much better than the Memorial Gym which could only seat 5,000 fans. Memorial Gym hosted its last men’s basketball game in early January 1977. The Miners beat the number 10 ranked Arizona team with a score of 60-59, a winning streak they hoped would carry over to their first game in the Special Events Center.
The Center opened in January 1977 at a total cost of nearly $10 million. The Center can seat 12,000 fans and has 130,000 square feet of floor space. The Center is 56 feet high, 423 feet long, and 381 feet wide. After the ribbon cutting ceremony the UTEP Miners basketball team hosted the Wyoming Cowboys in the inaugural game in the Special Events Center. Unfortunately, the results were not ideal; the Miners lost to the Cowboys with a score of 62-59. The Special Events Center, always nicknamed after Don Haskins, took the official name of the Don Haskins Center after Coach Haskins passed away in 2008.
The Don Haskins Center has hosted numerous events, concerts, and games including the men’s and women’s Conference USA tournament which it will host again 2014. In 2012, the Don Haskins Center was ranked 157th in the world for worldwide ticket sales during the 3rd quarter by Pollstar magazine. In addition to the various famous entertainment acts that have performed in the Don Haskins Center, many great Miner Basketball players have competed on the courts. One of those players, Harnell “Jeep” Jackson, who died while playing against Houston in 1987, has had his player locker memorialized in the Men’s Locker-room. The inside of the Center is decorated with Miner memorabilia including championship banners and retired player jerseys.
[Sources: The Prospector, 7/19/1973, 08/2/1973, 09/13/1973, 09/24/1974, 01/31/1975, 06/19/1975, 02/17/1976, 01/18/1977, 02/01/1977, 02/04/1977, 02/08/1977; Special Facilities Management, http://admin.itep.edu/default.aspx?tabid=25263.]
Ashley Swarthout was a student in the Masters of Arts in Teaching English program at UTEP. She graduated in May 2013 and is now teaches dual credit at Chapin High School.