MTSU Planning to Update 52-year Old Murphy Center

Rendering provided by MTSU Campus Planning

In 2015, Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) Athletics began the development of a master plan as a part of the Campus Master Plan. The Athletics Master Plan’s goal is to create a roadmap for athletic facility improvements and enhancements over the next several years. Funding will come from a capital campaign now underway called “Build Blue.”

A large part of the plan is the creation of the new football operations facility that is going to be home to the athlete training center, which will leave empty space where they are currently located. The area that currently houses the football program is going to be turned into an enhanced Murphy Center. 

A grand entrance into Murphy Center is one of the primary changes that will take place. The new entry will create an easier and more inviting access into the facility. No more walking up the infamous steps which force an unusual gait or using the loading dock elevator to get to the main floor. Instead, there will be a large interior atrium with a ticket office, new elevators and escalators.

“[The current entrance] is just not worthy of the building,” said Chris Massaro, MTSU Athletic Director. 

Men’s basketball will take over the old football space with enhanced offices, locker rooms and practice facilities. The current basketball locker room will be converted into additional strength training facilities. Current practice courts will also be enhanced. New amenities will include a meeting room, a hydration bar and a large team lounge. 

There will also be changes to basketball seating. Enhancing the fan experience, the north side of the area will gain club seating, suites, loges and bars providing upgraded ticketing offerings. The high-end Court Level Club will be accessed through a private entrance off the lobby. 

In order to change the entrance location, the current loading dock will be moved from the east side of the building to the north end. The current loading dock is hard for trucks to maneuver, and the new location will run parallel to the long stairs that lead up to the concourse. 

While changes will likely lower the number of seats by about 1,000, it will provide more exclusive seating and dynamic opportunities for the facility. There will be a new sound system. 

“The long range plan is to…really convert it to a more modernized building that is more accessible for promoters,” noted Massaro. 

Currently, Murphy Center hosts 210 events per year, including graduations, TSSAA events, home games, and some community events. And, once upon a time, the facility was known as the home of many a concert. 

Beginning in 1973, Murphy Center became an epicenter of concert activity in Middle Tennessee. Many of the greats played there, including Elvis Presley, Elton John, U2, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and Journey. It was the only large venue in the area and drew crowds from Nashville and surrounding areas. However, by 1996, there were no longer large concerts in the facility. By that time, there were a number of large venues in Nashville that took over that business. 

Concert and entertainment booking was done by MTSU Student Programming, according to Sidelines, the campus newspaper. Sidelines reported, “…some of the biggest names in the industry were pulling up their tour buses into the MTSU parking lot, offering shows that were easily accessible and affordable…the U2 show cost about $17 a ticket.” It is hoped that the changes to the building will once again draw top concerts. 

According to Massaro, about three quarters of a million people attend athletic events at MTSU sports facilities annually, with about 450,000 of that being at Murphy Center. And that figure just includes athletes, not spectators. If you include those supporting the student-athletes, that figure could easily triple. It is the biggest attendance generator for the Athletic Department.

Because of the draw of teams from all over the state to Murphy Center, it has a significant economic impact on the city. For example, Massaro says that sports teams use about 3,000 room rentals per year in local hotels, which at current rates is roughly $240,000 in room rentals for teams — that does not include spectators. If a quarter of a million of the people coming to Murfreesboro for an event at Murphy Center stayed overnight, that would have a $20 million direct impact on the economy of the city. 

Enhancing the look and the offerings at Murphy Center can only draw more to the facility. Besides concerts, it used to be used for many local events, like antique shows and a bridal fair. Massaro would like to see it once again draw local events. 

“It is a community building,” explained Massaro. “With [the Build Blue campaign] we want to reconvert it back into more of an entertainment center…There’s no reason the Harlem GlobeTrotters aren’t playing in Murfreesboro. There’s no reason we can’t get some of these other entertainment acts, let alone concerts. That is what we are trying to do … is to re-image Murphy Center just a little bit.” 

Currently, they have about $15 million put aside to make the changes to Murphy Center, but they will need about $50 to $60 million to make it a reality. 

“I like to say that [Murphy Center] is the visitor’s center for our campus,” added Massaro, “for our city, for our county. A lot of people draw their impressions off of it.”