Had the basketball court been in place, it likely would have made for a crowning aspect of Monday’s tour of the refurbished New Orleans Arena.
However, because of Tuesday night’s Michael Buble concert, the court’s official unveiling will have to wait until the New Orleans Pelicans’ preseason game against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.
That hardly took away from the impressive Phase I upgrades at the Arena, which were shown to the media. The first phase, which began in May and was paid for by the state, cost $30 million. The second phase, which will cost more than $20 million, will begin about the same time next year and involve expanding the actual “footprint” of the Arena, Superdome Management Group senior vice president Doug Thornton said.
“It’s first class,” Saints/Pelicans owner Tom Benson said. “We’re looking forward to a great season. We expect to sell out every game.”
With ticket prices having been lowered in 80 percent of the area, a remade Pelicans roster, and the many new amenities at the Arena, there’s no doubt it could be the place to be this season.
Compared to an earlier glimpse of New Orleans Arena, when construction was nearing the completion stage, Monday’s unveiling was eye-opening, like going from black-and-white to color.
“Before these renovations took place, I’d say the old New Orleans Arena was about in the bottom third of the (NBA),” Saints/Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha said. “Now, it’s probably in the top part of all the league’s arenas.”
The tour’s first stop was the locker room, now rich in maple wood, the individual dressing areas looking more prominent. A high-def TV of 50 inches or more graced the wall instead of the projector-type model on which the team watched tape of its next opponent.
What was on the other side of the locker room also was impressive: a players’ lounge, workout area featuring a mini-weight room and more flat-screen TVs, a steam room, league-mandated 8-foot-high showers, a training area with offices for the trainers, and the general manager’s office, sort of a mini version of what the team’s practice facility has.
That paled, however, in comparison to fan amenities, starting with the VIP clubs.
The Chairmen’s Club, located on the first floor, is a lounge-type area for fans. Perhaps its most notable feature is a glass wall facing the hall where the Pelicans head down to the court. The glass wall has openings.
“Not only can our fans see the players as the leave for the court, but they can hear the players and the coaches,” Lausha said. “We went to other arenas for fan amenities, and we listened to our fans.
“The Chairman’s Club is also an area where an entertainer, such as Madonna, can lounge before the concert.”
The Capital One Club, also on the first floor, looks like an ultra-modern bar & grill and has a glass wall that allows it to blend in with a patio outside. Walls were knocked down to provide more space, and a door leads to the Chairman’s Club. Fans can hang out there before games or concerts and at halftime or intermission.
From there, it was on to the new, more spacious team store, which promises to have the very latest in cutting-edge apparel because of a deal reached this past summer with adidas, which will run the store.
A renovated VIP lobby in which two escalators to allow for more fan flow have been added, leads to the club or second level. Up there are the North Club, which is on the Superdome side of the Arena, and the South Club.
The North Club has been expanded significantly, one of the biggest requests by fans. It will boast chefs at several food stations, which will have an ever-changing menu.
“If we want,” said Steve Trotter, regional vice president of Centerplate, which provides food for the Arena, “we can theme something up for a particular team.”
The South Club also was a small room. Not now. Laid out in a more elongated fashion than the North Club, it has an interactive back wall with TVs in a four-plex design that will allow for an enhanced video experience.
Maybe the most impressive area is the loge boxes, 14 four-seat boxes and two five-seat ones that offer privacy but are more open to the fan experience than the suites. Benson certainly liked them.
“I might move up here,” he said.
Saints/Pelicans vice president for sales Michael Stanfield said: “That might be a problem, sir; they’re sold out.”
The suites have been redone to reflect a more modern, urban, edgy, fresh look, and the rest rooms also have been upgraded, with larger women’s rest rooms.
The Hub Club and Party Perch, on the balcony level, offer amenities for the average fan, although all fans can gain access to the VIP areas through certain ticket packages.
“We feel that the fan experience will be greatly enhanced at this arena,” Lauscha said.
Thornton said he can’t wait for Phase II to be complete this time next year. It will involve up to 25,000 feet of expansion, and a new foyer area will be the centerpiece.
“The long-term plan is incorporating this area with Champions Square along with the Superdome,” Thornton said. “New Orleans will have a great sports complex.”