JQH Arena has been renamed to Great Southern Bank Arena. (Photo by Jeff Kissinger)

On Thursday, the 11,000-capacity arena on the Missouri State University campus got its new name. The Bears will soon be hooping it up at Great Southern Bank Arena. The Springfield-based bank has acquired the naming rights of the city’s largest indoor venue, which opened in 2008 as the JQH Arena. The initials are those of the late John Q. Hammons, the hotelier and community leader whose promise in 2006 to donate over $30 million toward the $67 million project led to the arena’s construction. 

The new name was announced at a press conference held by the Missouri State University Foundation on April 21. It’s tied to a $5.5 million gift made to the university from Great Southern Bank. As part of the gift, Great Southern Bank Arena will be the venue’s permanent name. As part of the decision to remove the JQH initials from the arena’s name, university and bank officials said that they plan to honor Hammons inside the venue. 

“We don’t have the building if it’s not for Mr. Hammons, and we never want to forget that and neither do our friends at Great Southern Bank,” said Clif Smart, MSU president. 

The arena naming partnership is the latest significant financial contribution that Great Southern Bank has made to MSU. Already, the bank’s name adorns the arena’s scoreboard, which Great Southern Bank provided funds to purchase and install, and Smart pointed out that the bank has given to the MSU Foundation every year since it began in 1981. With that longtime partnership with the university in mind, the bank was atop the list of potential partners when naming rights for the arena were given to MSU in 2018, Smart said.

“Number one from day one,” Smart said. “And we just had to get there. And we had to get there through a pandemic.” 

Great Southern Bank CEO says gift will ensure that MSU remains great university

Clif Smart, Joe Turner, Brent Dunn pose for a photo in front of the mockup of the newly named Great Southern Bank Arena (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

On Thursday, Joe Turner, Great Southern Bank president and CEO, recalled his father Bill calling the university the crown jewel of Springfield in 1995 when Joe joined the Southwest Missouri State board of regents. 

“He was right in 1995, and that’s still the case today,” Turner said. He said he cherished childhood memories of attending Bears games with his dad, and said he hoped that Great Southern Bank’s gift would allow others to have similar experiences. 

“We can’t play, we can’t coach, but we can help the university fund the arena and let coach (Dana) Ford and coach (Beth) Cunningham continue to focus on making those same kinds of memories for future generations of kids and families and Bears fans,” Turner said.  

The money will pay down part of the debt on arena bonds, which Brent Dunn, executive director of the MSU Foundation, said was a key goal in finding a new name for the facility as part of the foundation’s Onward, Upward campaign. Turner said that he and the Great Southern Bank team were honored to contribute. 

“The more we thought about it, the more interested we became — not just to get our name on the arena, but to give the university $5.5 million is going to afford them the opportunity to do the things they need to do,” Turner said. “Endow scholarships. Pay their faculty and staff. Do all the things that are necessary for them to continue to be a great university.”

MSU, Great Southern Bank leaders promise to honor Hammons 

The name change is an immediate one. At the conclusion of the announcement Thursday morning, the Great Southern Bank Arena logo was shown on the ribbon boards and scoreboard inside the venue. The @JQHArena Twitter account went dark and redirected followers to @GSBArena. The old website, jqharena.missouristate.edu, redirected to greatsouthernbankarena.com

While the change was immediate, Smart and Turner spoke about honoring the legacy of the man whose donation was central to the arena’s construction. 

“I think the bank needed to wrap their arms around how they were going to honor Mr. Hammons because that was really important to the Turner family, because he was so connected with them,” Smart said. 

He said that an exhibit will be installed in the arena entryway to memorialize Hammons’ history and contributions to the university and to Springfield. 

Gift will help pay down debts on arena

Cliff Smart speaking at the re-naming ceremony of JQH Arena.
Clif Smart speaking at the re-naming ceremony of JQH Arena, now called Great Southern Bank Arena. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

It has been a foregone conclusion that a change to the arena’s name was coming. Hammons died in 2013, and in 2016, the Revocable Trust of John Q. Hammons filed for bankruptcy. In 2018, the university settled with JD Holdings, LLC., which was the trust’s largest creditor and had acquired many of its key assets, including Hammons Tower, Hammons Field and more. It also took on debts, like the one to MSU. The university initially argued that it was owed $22 million. JD Holdings settled with Missouri State for a total of $10.2 million and the right to rename the arena. 

“They ended up not paying all of that completely,” Smart said. “But they will have paid us about $5.5 million dollars, plus the naming rights, and that whole matter is resolved. And so with this money, plus the JD Holdings money, plus (Hammons’) original money, we’ve received close to $35 million for the arena — construction and naming.” 

During the Wednesday MSU Board of Governors closed executive session, the board voted not only to approve the new arena name agreement but also to use funds from JD Holdings and the arena naming agreement to pay down $10 million in debt on the arena. Smart said that will drop the debt to keep MSU on track to pay its debts following a turbulent period for live event spaces. The resolution approved Wednesday shows the amount was about $33.9 million as of April 29, 2021. Smart said paying down the $10 million will bring the debt to about $20 million.

While Smart said that making a naming rights deal with Great Southern Bank was always the top option, MSU officials had conversations with other interested potential partners in recent years. All of those talks were put on hold by the pandemic. 

“I mean, it’s not fair to ask someone to name an arena when it’s shuttered,” he said. 

Outside the newly renamed Great Southern Bank Arena (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

In late January, as the Omicron variant surge receded, Smart said MSU leaders reached out again to their top option for the arena naming deal. 

“Once it appeared we were getting through the pandemic, with Omicron tailing off, Brent reached out to Joe again with a variety of projects,” Smart said. “He indicated they’d like to resume talking about the arena. He and I both visited and said there is an interest on both sides. We both went to our boards to kind of lay out a framework of how we’d work. They wanted to continue talking. “

Smart said he was part of a group that worked closely on the naming rights project that included Kyle Moats, MSU’s athletic director, Keith Boaz, the senior associate athletic director, Dunn, who is both the MSU Foundation director and a university vice president and Steve Foucart, MSU’s CFO. Smart said the group met with the Great Southern team and proposed the $5.5 million figure based on naming rights values for similar venues across the Missouri Valley Conference. 

“We thought it was a fair number,” Smart said. “We had researched what other arenas in our league, in similar leagues in our region, had been named for. They ranged from about $3.3 million at Murray State to $5 million at Arkansas State Stadium. Some of those were for a term of years, but we wanted to have a permanent naming and so we thought maybe there was value in that, both from branding and from an association with the bank permanently.”

That permanent change began Thursday. University and bank officials said that signage outside the Great Southern Bank Arena will be ready by the fall.