IUP celebrates community, teamwork at Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex opening

INDIANA — If the new Kovalchick Convention & Athletic Complex has a goal of bringing people from around the region to Indiana for athletic, entertainment and business purposes, its dedication ceremony bore a resemblance to what guests could see in the future.

The official grand opening of the $79 million, 150,000-square foot KCAC Friday included references to a classic film and even an impromptu, a cappella version of a Frank Sinatra standard by a state senator.

But the ceremony ended with a statement of dedication from Joe Kovalchick, speaking for his family: “All the efforts of the Kovalchick family are for one reason: All in honor of my parents, Nick and Fannie Kovalchick.”

The new KCAC was built on the site of the Kovalchick Corporation, which operated a metal salvage yard for more than 50 years on 33 acres of property.

The family sold the property to IUP to accommodate the development and, through a gift that names the complex, honors the memory of Nick and Fannie Kovalchick, who founded the salvage business.

David Osikowicz, of Punxsy, president of the IUP Council of Trustees, quoted a common theme from the film “Field of Dreams:” “Build it, and they will come.”

Referring to parts of the film, in which the ghosts of famed baseball players emerge, Osikowicz said he wasn’t sure who IUP’s similar spirits may be, but added, “The ghosts were always supportive” of the KCAC project.

He recalled the final scene from the film, revealing headlights from a line of cars approaching the field, and predicted the same future for the KCAC — except the headlights will be coming from Route 119 and elsewhere.

“Hopefully, that’s what will happen,” Osikowicz said. “Build it, and they will come.”

State Sen. Don White detailed the timeline of the KCAC’s evolution, which began in 2000 and was originally planned to house large-scale IUP events. From there, however, the project emerged into something that would not only benefit IUP, but the Indiana community and the region as well.

The project sped up, slowed down, was almost dropped amid accusations of being a “pipe dream,” was picked up, dusted off and finally completed and opened after years of commitment and investments by people and groups who could see the larger picture of what the KCAC could do for the region.

“We finally get to see a reward for time, patience and investment from so many people,” White said, adding that the KCAC is a perfect example of teamwork among municipal, state, federal and private investment and supporting bodies.

In 2003, then-Gov. Ed Rendell committed $5 million to purchase and clear the 33 acres of property, White said. What pushed the project forward was local commitment — and matching funds — from White Township, the Borough of Indiana, Indiana County and the Indiana County Development Corporation.

White recalled that the Kovalchick family had the property for sale in the 1960s for the same price for which it was purchased in 2007. But the family “knew the possibilities, what it could mean to the community and the region,” he said. “They established something here that’s going to change this community and the region forever.”

Throughout the highs and lows of getting the project off the ground, White said he recalled a Frank Sinatra song, “The Way You Look Tonight,” that he felt summed up the experience, and he even sang the first verse:

“Some day, when I’m awfully low,
When the world is cold,
I will feel a glow just thinking of you ...
And the way you look tonight.”

House Speaker Sam Smith, of Punxsy, didn’t try to follow White with a song, but instead said the KCAC is not a textbook model of making similar projects come to fruition. It was a long and unusual process to make the KCAC a reality he said, and it couldn’t have been completed without the desire of the community as a whole.
“It was a long and winding road, and it could only be negotiated by the community of people here,” Smith said.

He also said the KCAC’s grand opening — or turning the key, or opening the door — is not the end of the journey.
“The winding path is important to recognize, but to go forward, we all have to stay committed,” Smith said.

Also speaking Friday:

• Dr. John Cavanaugh, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, said state universities such as IUP thrive to complement their surrounding communities and regions, and “The KCAC is the perfect example ... I’m certain this facility will help to achieve that goal.”

• U.S. Rep. Mark Critz, who succeeded John Murtha after his death in 2010, said the KCAC shows that IUP is “big-time,” and said that while Murtha attended the University of Pittsburgh and talked about “Pitt this, and Pitt that,” the late representative’s mother and daughter both attended IUP.
“I think we’ve got ‘em beat,” Critz, a 1987 IUP graduate, said. “This is one major project.”

• U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster said he’s not an IUP alum, but “I have been paying tuition here,” as his wife earned a master’s degree from IUP.

• State Rep. David Reed, a 2000 IUP graduate, recalled throwing practice while he was a student, and how the tree line made him and his fellow throwers realize how close the community — Indiana — was from their site.
And now with the KCAC, “We’re bringing the community, the university and the region together in a whole new way,” he said.

• Joe Kovalchick spoke for members of his family, 21 of whom traveled from locations from as far away as Seattle, Los Angeles and Boston to attend Friday’s grand opening.
“Well, here it is, and we’re here, and we’re a part of it,” he said.
Addressing the many years the property was for sale, Kovalchick joked, “I knew it would happen; I was just waiting for the right time.”

• Serving as emcee, Dr. David Werner, interim IUP president, quoted an article in The New Yorker: “History begins where memory leaves off,” but Friday, the KCAC is almost all history, and local residents see the building as memory, citing the long-time presence of the Kovalchick family.

IUP began planning for a regional development center in December 1999 and broke broke ground for the KCAC in November 2008.

The facility is projected to have an annual economic impact of $12.5 million during each year of operation.