Laurie family donated $25M for project

Updated: March 20, 2004, 4:23 AM ET
Associated Press

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The University of Missouri is naming its new basketball arena after the 22-year-old daughter of the Wal-Mart heirs who donated $25 million toward its construction.

Paige Sports Arena was named for Elizabeth Paige Laurie at the request of her parents, Bill and Nancy Laurie, said the spokesman for Missouri's athletic department, Chad Moller, on Friday.

The university said Paige Laurie had never been enrolled there. The Laurie family and its representatives did not return calls for comment Friday from The Associated Press.

Nancy Laurie is the daughter of the late Bud Walton, a co-founder of the Wal-Mart empire with his late brother, Sam Walton. The Lauries live in Columbia, as did the Walton brothers in their youth.

"We are grateful for the Lauries' generosity and we are delighted to name the building for their daughter, Paige," Richard Wallace, chancellor of the Columbia campus, said in a statement.

The arena name is subject to approval from the university's governing Board of Curators, which did not have the matter on the agenda for its April 1-2 meeting as of Friday, said spokesman Joe Moore.

The $75 million arena is scheduled for completion Oct. 1, in time for the next men's basketball season.

The Lauries' $25 million gift came with long strings, including naming rights for the 15,000-seat arena and extensive influence about its design and construction, along with perks including a luxury suite with catering.

Public money is paying for most of the new arena in the form of $35 million in revenue bonds approved by lawmakers. The bonds are to be repaid over time with revenues generated by the arena. The university athletic department has raised another $15 million in private donations.

"As supporters of education and athletics, we are proud of our association with the University of Missouri. As parents, we are very proud of our daughter, Paige. So we could not be happier that the university would combine those two important parts of our lives in naming this new facility the Paige Sports Arena," Bill and Nancy Laurie said in a statement. Paige Laurie is their only child.

Bill Laurie owns the St. Louis Blues professional hockey team and the team's home venue, the Savvis Center. His management company is called Paige Sports Entertainment.

The family has also donated money in the past to the Tiger Scholarship Fund in the athletic department, and they endowed the E. Paige Laurie Professorship for the Equine Center at the veterinary school on the Columbia campus.

Bud Walton and his older brother Sam, who died in 1992, were Missouri natives who opened the first Wal-Mart Discount City in Rogers, Ark., in 1962. Bud Walton, who died in March 1995, was senior vice president and a director of the empire that became the world's largest retailer.

At the time of his death, 73-year-old Bud Walton was ranked by Forbes magazine as the 83rd richest American. He donated $15 million toward construction of Arkansas' 19,200-seat arena, which opened in November 1993.

Bill Laurie said his family insisted on getting in writing the conditions for the Missouri arena gift. He cited a "bad experience" at Arkansas, in which the university sold Bud Walton's skybox after his death without consulting his heirs.

At Missouri, the conditions included a 780-square-foot luxury suite at midcourt with a bathroom, kitchen and free catering, excluding alcohol. The family is also guaranteed the use of a second, centrally located "standard" suite for eight events each year "without any restriction as to events." The university agreed to give the Lauries six courtside seats of their choice for all arena events, "to be selected first before any other selection of tickets or assignment of tickets is made."

The deal gave the Lauries naming rights to the arena for four years from its opening, and precludes any competitors of businesses in which the Lauries "own a substantial interest" -- notably Wal-Mart, in which they own large amounts of stock -- from having any placement of advertising or naming rights in the new arena.

It also barred the university, without the prior written consent of the Lauries, from building, placing or maintaining anything in the new arena "that will in any way provide any recognition of, dedication to or notoriety for any current or former athlete, administrator, coach or athletic director of the university," with the exception of moving the current Missouri Sports Hall of Fame display from the Hearnes Center to the new arena.

Bill Laurie had for some time been publicly noncommittal about honoring former basketball coach Norm Stewart in the new arena because of what were believed to be strained relations between them. The floor in Missouri's current home venue, the Hearnes Center, is named the Norm Stewart Court, honoring the man who compiled a 634-333 record in 32 seasons at Missouri, producing eight Big Eight championships and six Big Eight tournament championships.

But on March 7, Wallace surprised Stewart with a halftime announcement that the Lauries had agreed to name the new arena court after the retired coach, as well. In that game, the Tigers played their last scheduled game in the 32-year-old Hearnes Center, losing to archrival Kansas.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press