Everyone loves a good Cinderella story.
When Longwood University men’s and women’s basketball teams made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in March 2022, Farmville rallied behind the Lancers. Though they only made it to the first round, it didn’t matter. Longwood was on the map – 15 years after becoming Division I in 2007.
The Cinderella aspect applies not only to the basketball team, but the campus as well. And nothing screams “fairytale glow-up” more than the new Joan Perry Brock Center: the more than 72,000-square-foot arena that the Lancers basketball teams call home.
The JPB, as its affectionately known on campus, isn’t just for the students. It’s for the greater Farmville and Southside Virginia community.
The new center is just one piece of the puzzle in the university’s 2025 Campus Master Plan that has caused $400 million in renovations and construction that bridges the town and campus together like never before in the school’s nearly 200-year history.
Entering a new chapter of urbanism has been a goal of Longwood President Taylor Reveley since 2013 when he first took the job. But he has a soft spot for the center. Reveley is a former D-I college athlete himself (football at Princeton University).
“It’s a great place for our student athletes to play, but it’s also a great place for the community and campus to come together and feel the kind of connection that college sports are,” he said.
Located in the center of campus, the Joan Perry Brock Center holds up to 3,000 spectators for sporting events but can fit 4,000 for other special events. The best seats in the house? The floor seats directly behind the Lancer bench, which are reserved for the most passionate student fans.
Justin Pope, vice president and chief of staff, said the school took inspiration from other universities, such as the University of Kansas, Duke University, and the University of Virginia.
“They all have one thing in common which is that the student-section is really crammed together down by the floor,” Pope said. “The energy is derived from that, and we wanted students to really be the center.”
Pulling from the Lancer Lunatic energy was special for Willett Hall, the small gymnasium that housed the basketball teams since the ’80s. Despite the high school gym appearance, there was no doubt the space was electric – and loud.
It was something Joan Brock, the building’s namesake, has found memories of during her time at Longwood. A philanthropist, Brock donated $15 million to make the center a reality in 2019.
“My classmates, who call ourselves the Longwood Ladies, have been together for 63 years,” Brock said during the ribbon cutting in August. “I hope you all develop those close connections with your own classmates.”
Though it was obvious the teams had outgrown their former home, building the Joan Perry Brock Center came with two unique challenges: meshing the new building’s design with the rest of the 180-year historical college and being a good steward of the already tight space on campus.
“So often places, whether it’s universities or, or cities, will build an arena somewhere where the parking is super abundant, but it’s not actually in the heart of things,” Reveley said. “Putting it right in the heart of campus just utterly maximizes the foot traffic. However, putting it right in the middle of campus meant that all sorts of things, from an engineering and architectural standpoint, we had to figure out.”
From the outside, the JPB doesn’t look like a massive building, thanks to a creative design trick. It was scaled with the rest of its neighboring buildings. Once inside, the high ceilings and pillars of the classic Jeffersonian look gives guests a better look at the size of the space.
While the goal was to build a modern, yet beautiful space, the real goal was bringing the community in.
Pope said having Longwood be the site for the 2016 Vice Presidential Debate instilled a new pride for not just the university, but for Farmville as well. After 3,000 reporters descended on the town, Farmville opened a handful of boutique hotels, which made it more inviting for out-of-town visitors and alumni as well as a new growth of Main Street businesses. Then once the Lancers made the tournament in 2022, that pride continued to grow.
“Before then it didn’t really feel like a college town in the way Charlottesville or Lexington does,” Pope said. “That’s what we’ve been building toward.”
In the short few months the Joan Perry Brock Center has been open, it has already become a major draw to Southside. The arena has already sold out twice. Farmville’s viral musician Oliver Anthony returned to his hometown for a sold-out show back in October proving that people no longer need to travel Charlottesville, Lynchburg and Richmond for entertainment.
This weekend, the Lancers play their first home game at the JPB to a sold-out crowd of alumni, students, and community members. According to Pope, more than 850 tickets have been sold for the 2023-2024 basketball season – up from 180 tickets last year.
“I’m excited to see future events come through here,” Farmville Mayor Brian Vincent said. “The community has already bought in. We must start selling [Farmville] for who we truly are.”
Vincent said the passion Farmville residents have has caught the attention of developers around the state.
“COVID was a bad moment for all of us,” he said. “But this community really rallied and took hold of that moment and was like, let’s celebrate each other, let’s make sure we lift each other up. I think that sentiment has continued.”