Johnny Allison Family Gifts $5 Million To ASU Stadium, Hints Of Major Bank Deal

by Paul Holmes ( 312 views 

Cross one major item off Home BancShares founder and board chairman Johnny Allison’s bucket list.

Speaking at an announcement of his family’s $5 million gift to jumpstart an upgrade to Centennial Bank Stadium at Arkansas State University, Allison promised that there’s more where that came from.

Allison also told Talk Business & Politics that in terms of building his banking enterprise, there’s more coming.

Allison, an ASU alumnus and former chairman of the ASU board of trustees, said the gift to ASU announced Tuesday isn’t the end of this family’s philanthropy toward ASU.

“We’ll do something else down the road when we can, and when it makes sense. I don’t hang my name on much,” said Allison.

The gift – the largest-ever personal gift to ASU athletics – “has been on my bucket list for a long time,” Allison said.

The donation will help ASU “take its dream to reality” in terms of a facilities upgrade for the stadium built in 1974, he said.

The nearly 40,000 sq. ft. upgrade on the west side of the stadium – dubbed the Centennial Expansion in recognition of Centennial Bank and ASU’s 100th football season – represents a complete overhaul to the stadium press box, expanding the press box itself to 35,741 sq. ft.

The face of the stadium will be redesigned to include 42 loge boxes, 20 suites and 300 club seats in its revenue-generating areas. The suites will average 433 sq. ft. each.

The expansion will permit enhanced media, coaching, broadcasting, control booth, a visiting athletics director suite and camera areas. The project also calls for major improvements and additions to the concourse restrooms, concessions, gating and ticketing areas. Construction likely will start in October.

Two years ago, ASU announced a $5 million donation by Liberty Bank, which has since been sold to Home BancShares and merged with Centennial Bank.

“We’re here for the long haul,” Allison said of his commitment to ASU.

Born in Little Rock, Allison said he moved to Jonesboro at the age of six months. His family lived “just over the hill” from where the stadium now stands, so “my little footprints are all over this place.” He began selling mobile homes in his family’s business at age 13, progressing to owning manufacturing housing facilities and using profits to enter banking, Allison said.

As a result of the Allison family’s gift and the corporate community and donors “stepping up,” ASU athletic director Terry Mohajir said, ASU will host the University of Missouri in September of 2015. ASU had been mulling an offer to move the game to Busch Stadium in St. Louis in return for a substantial guaranteed payment.

While ASU officials characterized Allison’s gift as “transformational,” Allison also said that his banking entity is considering more acquisitions this year, including one that he said would, if it comes to fruition, “be a game-changer.”

Centennial operates in Arkansas, Florida and southern Alabama, and Allison said the company’s Florida banks are doing well, averaging a 1.4% return on assets, with a goal of 1.8%.

Though he didn’t say in which of the states he is considering acquiring banks, Allison said, “We’ve got more coming,” though the transactions might not close until next year. Those planned acquisitions will be within the three states of operation, he said.

“We’re going to stay in our lane,” he said. Three of those could be in the $2 billion neighborhood, he said, while another “would be a game changer” though he didn’t specify where or what size that bank might be.