UMBC’s student body continued to grow throughout the 1980s, and by 1990 it had outgrown the University Center as the main student activity space. The administration decided to build the Commons—a collaboration between Perry Dean Rogers and Design Collective architectural firms. The new location, on the foundation of Gym I, would shift the center of campus life from academic row. The 143,000 square-foot building opened its doors to students a semester behind schedule in Spring 2002; however, it was only a partial opening as many spaces, such as the tiered plaza, were still under construction. Once finished, the Commons featured additional meeting and performing spaces, retail space, and study and leisure areas.
The building’s design, featuring two large corridors that intersect at the center and the use of glass walls, earned an award from the Maryland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. In addition to the new space for student activities, the Commons also featured many new dining options such as the Retriever Grill, Pete’s Arena Pizza, MeinBowl, and more. The UMBC Bookstore and OTC Shop (both previously and now known as the Yum Shoppe), were slated to open in March.
The Commons was built on the foundation of the Gym I building, which was no longer needed after the university funded improvements for the Retriever Activities Center.