The Knapp Center
Originally Submitted by Matt McGowan, Drake University, December 2011
In the early 1990’s, plans for the construction of a multi-purpose recreation center commenced at Drake University. The Drake Center, as it was first named, was intended to be a place that would hold various sporting events but also be open to the public for recreational use in between collegiate sporting events. It was built as an addition that would connect to the Hill M. Bell Center, which was opened in November of 1977. In August 1990, the Drake University Board of Governors granted approval in order to begin construction of the building. Eight months later, the groundbreaking ceremony took place on April 27, 1991. The construction project was completed in 1992. The first Drake Bulldogs basketball game was played there on December 5, 1992.
With the completion of the Knapp Center in 1992, Drake University boasted its very own premier, Division I, multi-purpose athletic facility. In total, the entire project cost the University about $12.5 million. In terms of the building process itself, RDG Bussard Dikis Inc. designed the architecture, while the general contractor for the project was Taylor Ball of Des Moines. The roof of the arena consists of custom made trusses that span 210 feet between concrete columns on each side. Also, a catwalk was designed beneath the trusses in order to ensure easy access to lighting fixtures. Both of these were carefully designed beforehand in order to ensure that the project would be finished on time. Today, the Knapp Center boasts a seating capacity of 7,152 occupants. In terms of size, the facility is 112,000 square feet between both levels. It incorporates five multi-purpose courts, four racquetball and handball courts, locker rooms, a 5,800 square-foot weight room, as well as a four- lane 200-meter track encircling the upper level of the facility. On September 18, 2010, the University opened the new and improved “Ron Pearson Court” to the public. The renovations to the main arena were made possible through a generous donation from Hy-Vee. The addition was named after Ron Pearson, a former Hy-Vee CEO and Drake alum.
Donations and Fund-Raising
Largely, the completion of the Knapp Center project was made possible through donations from Drake alumni as well as other members involved with the Drake community. Also, the University went out and issued bonds in order to fund the project and complete it all at one time. As a whole, the Drake Center fund-raising project was co-chaired by three local business owners. They were William C. Knapp, Jim Cownie, and David Miller. William Knapp alone donated $3.1 million to the entire project, including contributions to both the Knapp Center and the new Tennis Center where his son, Roger, was the men’s coach. His gift was the largest by any non-alum in Drake University history. In general, he was an integral figure in revitalizing not only the area around Drake but also much of downtown Des Moines. By the end of fund raising, Drake had plenty of donations to put towards the project, including donations of $250,000 or more from both Jim Cownie and David Miller. On January 29, 1993, the Drake Center was renamed and dedicated as The William C. Knapp Center in honor of his generous donations to Drake University.  
- 1. Burns, J. (1992, November 26). Many dreams fulfilled by school’s new facility. The Des Moines Register, pp. 1DD.
- 2. Thompson, L. (2010, December). Hill McClelland Bell Center. Retrieved September 28, 2011, from Drake University website: http://drakeapedia.drake.wikispaces.net/Bell+Center
- 3. Drake University, Groundbreaking ceremony Multipurpose Recreation, Sports and Convocation Center. (1991, April 27.) Cowles Library Archive Collection- Recreation and Sports Complex File. Des Moines, IA: Drake University.
- 4. Burns, J. (1992, November 26). Many dreams fulfilled by school’s new facility. The Des Moines Register, pp. 1DD.
- 5. Drake University Knapp Center. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2011, from Shuck-Britson Inc. http://www.shuck-britson.com/projects/pdfs/Drake-Knapp.pdf
- 6. Drake University, Dedication of the William C. Knapp Center. (1993, January 29). Des Moines, IA: Drake University. [Cowles Library Archive Collection- Knapp Center File].
- 7. Drake University Knapp Center. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2011, from Shuck-Britson Inc. http://www.shuck-britson.com/projects/pdfs/Drake-Knapp.pdf
- 8. The Knapp Center. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2011, from http://www.godrakebulldogs.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=15700&KEY=&ATCLID=1104484
- 9. Drake University, Dedication of the William C. Knapp Center. (1993, January 29). Des Moines, IA: Drake University. [Cowles Library Archive Collection- Knapp Center File].
- 10. Burns, J. (1992, November 26). Many dreams fulfilled by school’s new facility. The Des Moines Register, pp. 1DD.