Home Improvement

The New Orleans Arena renovations will be literally spectacular.

One of the somewhat hidden lessons in the world of the NBA over the last 5 years is that a team can play without an owner, but it can’t play without an arena. The Seattle Supersonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder because of an arena, or lack thereof. The Nets moved to Brooklyn where they got a state of the art arena, and Golden State is considering a move across the bay for the same reason. The Kings have threatened to leave if their arena situation in Sacramento can’t be resolved.

We, however, made the playoffs with one owner tied behind our back.

Messed up, huh?

Well, after the more-than-two-year odyssey, the New Orleans Hornets have an owner and are overhauling their roster with their future Hall-of-Fame-r, but, perhaps most importantly of all, the New Orleans Arena is getting some major upgrades.

Here are the highlights of the proposed changes:

  • A massive air-conditioned atrium
  • Exterior digital media
  • Expanded and improved clubs
  • New VIP area
  • Expanded Capital One Club
  • More access from concourse to the bowl
  • New audio, video, control center
  • Mobile phone signal boost

These proposed items can be modified, dropped, or replaced. Budget and funding issues, taste, arbitrariness, unforeseen implementation difficulties, and more can all affect these plans.


The New Orleans Arena was built in 1999 for a total of $114m. Now, just 13 years later, it’s getting $50m in renovations. Some of the details of the funding and motivation were reported earlier. Though the New Orleans Arena was deemed satisfactory to host basketball in 2002, 2007, and 2012, it has often been criticized, sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly. During this time period, several arenas lost or failed to attract NBA teams, so the fact that the Arena was given the nod three times in a decade is proof enough that the good outweighed the bad, at least when a willingness to improve has been shown. Adjusting for inflation, the renovations funds amount to about 30% of the construction costs, which is a substantial commitment after just 13 years.

The major areas of need were clear to most and some have been discussed: audio, video, awkward relationship to the Superdome, confined feeling.

All of these are being addressed. These changes enhance the fan experience, a goal of the improvements. The other goal is revenue enhancement.

The renovations will occur this offseason and next. Those this offseason generally will address the technology of the Arena. Next offseason will see more construction and perhaps more technological improvements.

Some of the the upgrades will be completed before the start of the 2013-2014 season, when New Orleans will host the 2014 NBA All-Star Game, perhaps as the Hornets, perhaps as a rebranded team . . . Voodoo?

We start with the more geeky upgrades.

Mobile Phone Signal Boost

This upgrade is already in place. In prior seasons, cellular service was hit-or-miss at best in the Arena and the Dome. Both facilities had their antennae upgraded, and all four major carriers have their packages in place. I’ve tried the Arena system, and it’s great. The Dome’s capacity now leads NFL stadia.

These upgrades were essentially paid for by the carriers.

This is certainly falls in the category of fan experience, and could bring in revenue enhancements, depending on the sponsors the team has. Will Verizon extend from sponsorship of the Saints and Champions Square to the Hornets in time?

New Audio, Video, Control Center

The audio at the Arena has always been average at best. Sometimes it’s difficult to hear the announcers or hosts. For concerts, the sound is off for most shows. For the Voodoo, it’s just too loud.

The video was not much better, lacking high-definition in many cases. Also, there is a lack of screens both in the bowl and in the concourses and other areas.

The abilities of these limited assets were further restricted by a control center that offered limited production possibilities. For instance, replay was not a common occurrence in the Arena.

All of this is being replaced.

Upgraded audio will keep the fans in touch with the hosts and announcers during the action, keep the sponsors in touch with fans in the breaks, and make it easier for other events to present their shows to those in attendance.

New monitors will be all around the concourses to make it easier for fans to follow the event while they are spending money in the hall . . . win-win right there. New video boards in the bowls will offer more information to fans during games, and offer clearer images of both game action and sponsors’ messages.

An improved control center will allow maximum utility of these new toys, including expanded in-game replay. A second LED ribbon board should be installed at some point along with a new suspended scoreboard and video system.

These new systems not only enhance the fan experience, but can get more eyes on sponsors by way of overlays during replays, picture-in-picture, more exposure on the LED ribben boards, and more. This leads to more revenue.

The costs of these will be $10m, give or take, based on similar upgrades in recent years.

Exterior Digital Media

Right now, the arena has large static signs around the exterior. Some advertise the Hornets, some upcoming events, others are for sponsors.

Digital media will replace some of the current means of advertising. Besides the obvious advantages of being able to give more value to more sponsors, thus driving revenue, this technology is far more visible at night, again, giving more value to sponsors.

Additionally, this is more high tech, more appealing to eye, easier to maintain, and is able to be integrated with a larger coordinated display. The digital media can also be used for purely aesthetic or some very specific purposes for special events.

This will cost a few million dollars initially and more to maintain, but should actually be a net plus over the life of the lease given the increase in sponsorship potential.

The remaining upgrades require more construction activity. The interior work should be completed in the next offseason and in time for the 2013-2014 NBA All-Star Game, with the major exterior work commencing after the 2013-2014 season. With luck, we’ll be able to show the world those improvements at the 2018 NBA All-Star Game in celebration of New Orleans’ tricentennial . . . and how does 3 of 12 All-Star Games sound in terms of pace going forward?

Yeah, that’s right . . .

The Atrium

The centerpiece of the renovation may be the atrium, or whatever it is.

At present, the `front’ of the Arena faces north, directly into the South endzone of the Dome, or the associated loading dock . . . you decide. The Dome’s major access was on the North side along Poydras (Gate A for those in that number) in recent years, but the development of Champions Square and the Grand Staircase is making the east-facing Gate C the again as it was in the days of the New Orleans Center bridge.

As it should be, Champions Square is now the focus. I know it may not be clear just how important Champions Square is, but it is vital to the long-term success of our sports district. You’ve read it here before, and you’ll read it again and again. That Super Bowl season and every drop of magical deliciousness in it that saved so many psyches also saved sports in this city for the long-term. Write that down. Or don’t, because I’ll be writing about this for a looong time.

The atrium will be an air-conditioned enclosure filled with windows and seamlessly joined to the Arena’s North and East sides. This will serve a number of purposes, including re-orienting the `front’ of the `Arena’ to face East, into the current Lot 3 between the Arena and the parking garage next to the Post Office. To get the said windows installed, the people in charge can check this link to know more about services.

This is the totally redone `entrance’ we’ve heard rumblings of. Fans will enter on this closer, more natural entrance that is presented from them as soon as they emerge from the covered portion of Girod /Dixon or round the corner coming from Champions Square.

In the atrium, which should not require a ticket to enter, fans will find built in merchandise shops, concessions, tables, places to mingle, patio environments, and more. Some hype activities will take place here, such as face-painting and the like, and the box office will be there instead of on the West side of the building (the East ticket windows are operated less often and are a pain in inclement weather).

From here, fans can enter the Arena in a number of ways. In the past, one of the great `tricks’ has been to go up the stairs on the outside of the Arena and enter on the 100 level rather than enter on the ground level and take the single escalator upstairs (for non-VIP, non-club patrons). This `trick’ is actually consistent with the design of the Arena. The 100 level is a more natural entrance. The Atrium will make this more obvious, and fans entering the Arena will be greeted by a spacious concourse with concessions, merchandise tables, and more rather than an ATM, an escalator, and a merchandise shop that takes one away from the action.

It will be a very open space, consistent with the trend that most many venues are following, but, again, will be decadently air-conditioned for those t-shirt weather Christmases we have here from time-to-time.

This has tremendous potential for evolution and to give the Arena an aesthetic kick in the pants.

Lot 3 will be repurposed into an entertainment space, likely the location of Buzz Fest going forward. Note, this implies that Buzz Fest, or its rebranded identity, will persist in some form. These changes will cause parking and traffic flow changes generally and on gameday. Those changes are not clear, but the natural evolution is for a section of Girod / Dixon to be shut down in some capacity or for changes in walkways to that foot and car traffic will not negatively interfere with one another while allowing proper resource access.

A massive Lot renumbering campaign may be needed in the coming years, as well, if budget allows.


The North and South clubs will be receiving some updates. The furniture and layouts will both be updated.

The North club will expanded and will have a view into the atrium and surrounding area.

The South club will not have the advantage of the adjacent atrium, nor does it have a vista to take advantage of. Instead, a large video wall will be installed. This digital toy will provide artistic and aesthetic images and relevant game day programming. With the technological upgrades mentioned above, this could be really cool.

The Capital One Club will be expanded in space and opulence. It will be much larger, have a meandering footprint that will maintain the intimacy of the current club. There will be better seating, fire pits (so I’m told . . . I gotta see this)), and other amenities to distract patrons from that pesky loud game.

If we end up as the Voodoo, I can just see a whole new line of merchandise: Opposing team mascot voodoo dolls for sale that are designed to safely burn in these things . . . one degree removed from directly lighting money on fire in our own twisted NBA Mardi Gras.

Every home game.

I love this place.

VIP Areas

New VIP areas will be installed, and current VIP areas will be updated.

First of all, this includes the locker room and the good bit of the `back of the house’. Locker rooms and the like are very important to some very important people. The press area, kitchen, etc. will likely get at least a touch-up.

Next, the New Orleans Arena has two bunker suites that I know of. These are essentially rooms with no view of the arena floor that are purely used for gathering and entertaining. These are not only used by ownership, but are used as green rooms, etc. for concerts and other events. Additional areas will be constructed, such as additional bunker suites, a large `bunker super suite’ for VIP mingling. This will most definitely put the Arena in play for concerts and events it currently can not bid for because they can not meet the requirements of the more discriminating touring musicians and the like . . . think Axl Rose and his notable riders.

Remember, this Arena attracts more than just sports, and the more it attracts, the better it is for us all. Think of all the money we’ll save by not having to go to Houston for a big tour . . .

The space for these upgrades is coming from the relocation of the merchandise store, ticket office and more. These and other rearrangements also allow for more `industrial’ space, such as storage, which in turn allows improved production and event experiences indirectly.

Concourse Access

Another trend in modern venues is inescapability from the event. This does a couple of nice things for everyone. First, it gives patrons their money’s worth, since they can roam around and not be severed from the event they paid money (which is sweat, backaches, and time away from family for many) for. Second, it removes a barrier to patrons leaving their seat to spend money.

Besides the enhanced video and additional screens to create this immersion, the vomitoria will be opened up in at least some cases, allowing the even to be experienced from the concourse to some extent. The voms in some arenas are no longer existent, being replaced by a mere gateway.

Etymological note: Vomitoria are named so since that’s from where patrons (in this case) spew forth. Absolutely fantastic.

These may not be able to redone completely due to plumbing and other restrictions (the Arena’s restrooms are on the inside wall, not the outside wall, in many cases), and costs my drive a selection. Nevertheless, it will be an improvement.

Related Notes

The Arena will receive other cosmetic changes, and a naming rights sponsor may cause some appointments to be made, touches here, flourishes there. They can embed these things into he design or aesthetics depending on the value and length of the deals. The expanded space all give opportunities for additional branding (The Budweiser Entrance, the Lowe’s Atrium, for example (totally made up here)), as well.

Other patron-friendly changes will include things like way-finding, as it’s easier to buy pasta if you know where to find the pasta station (109-ish). Things like apps may be released (Tulane has one, for instance . . . why not the Arena?) to help orient new or out-of town fans.

Additional pieces of flair may include in-house light shows and on-court projection, as they do with the fleur-de-bees now in the intros. The overall presentation could change, from a more brightly-lit, music filled show during a game to a more somber presentation where the court is more well-lit than the stands. These are choices they have to make, not limitations of the resources.

The basic exterior of the building is not slated to change, other than the media covering it, the images projected upon it, or the atrium up against it.

The pour rights / beverage contract with Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (which is why we have R.C., not Coke or Pepsi), was agreed to in early 2007 and was reportedly a six-year deal. If correct, we will not see a change in beverages this season, but we could change going forward, and Coke is the likely forerunner as it is served in the Dome.

On the food side, there is no reason to think Centerplate would change as they also serve the Dome for SMG, but perhaps more local restaurants will get involved in the Arena, as Voodoo BBQ was for a while.

Additionally, with the activation of a streetcar line extension along Loyola and more formal connections being built between the Hyatt and Champions Square, the sports district, and all of downtown to some extent, is becoming more cohesive as this district evolves.

That’s good. We have just taken our first step into a larger world.

41 responses to “Home Improvement”

  1. Very good info Jason. Really appreciate this! The Arena will offer a great experience when these changes are complete!

  2. Am I the only one who desperately wants to see the exterior of the building changed? The horrible foam green color is embarrassing.

    • Good point. From the outside it does look a little like it might be the training facility of the Uzbek Women’s Olympic swim team.

    • Since the management and oversight is tied to the Superdome, I think they should redo it to look like a mini-dome. The refurbished Superdome looks fantastic to me.

      • Want to or not, this is doubtful. The Arena is in a weird place, being bythe Dome, so it’s roof and exterios shape have to deal with the effects of potentially strong winds reacting to the Dome leaving a partial vacuum near the Arena. That roof isn’t changing much, and they aren’t going to decorate it with a `hat’ for the same reasons.

        Navier-Stokes ain’t no joke.

  3. Thanks. Good article. I have a few questions.
    1) Are we actually having the 2018 All-Star Game here?
    2) Does anyone know what the side of the arena will look like? CP3 used to be on it and then he, TC, D-West, and Peja.
    3) What happened to the Louisiana Seafood Arena…?

  4. Stadia?! Wow, just when I thought this site couldn’t get more professional or intellectually stimulating you blow my mind again. Kudos on that one, Calmes. You think Wojnarowski would have had the courage to use the correct plural of stadium? I think not!

  5. Man, all the teams are gonna wanna drop by our new crib. This is great news and we will have an exciting team to showcase in our hot new joint.

  6. Buzz Fest is/was so much better than the Saints pregame stuff in Champs Sq. When Benson Purchased the team, the only con I had was the death of Buzz Fest. By moving to Champs Sq. entrance can be restricted, $1 beers could be traded for the $8 ones, and the quality of performers could drop dramatically (no offense but I prefer Flow Tribe and Glen David Andrews over that cover band garbage before Saints games). I hope this isn’t the case. My season ticket guy says it won’t change—I hope he is right.

  7. The $50 million in renovations is being financed by the state of Louisiana from its general fund? Am I the only one who finds it outrageous that sports teams get massive subsidies for their arenas while they make large profits (including much faster than the rate of inflation growth in the value of their franchise) at the taxpayers’ expense, while other sorely needed spending in education, health care, veterans’ disabilities, etc. are strapped for cash.

    As much as I love the Hornets, I find it harder and harder to justify supporting how sports leagues and franchises are treated in the law as first in line to receive special perks.

    • I detailed some of the spending vs. Tax break stuff in another piece, but lightly.

      I will do a more detailed study in time.

      Let’s be clear about a couple of things, however. The Arena is a state asset. The Hornets rent it. Other entities use it, too, such as NCAA, AFL, concerts.

      It generates money, and if the improvements allow more money to be generated, and enough to give return on investment to the State, they are justified.

      Studies such as this were undertaken before the tax breaks were given, as is required for thr Quality Jobs Tax Rebate, if I have the name right.

      I’m happy to discuss this more.

      • Thanks for the informative reply, Jason. I am a bit dubious about such studies, because it is really hard to compare the results of a particular policy choice with a counterfactual scenario in which the policy was not implemented. (For example, does the presence of the Hornets depress some businesses in other parts of the state because people spend a large amount of disposable income on the Hornets instead?) My understanding is that a number of economists question just how much value (in terms of revenue and jobs) that sports franchises bring in. I certainly agree with the principle that the state can invest in something, such as a sports arena, as a way to generate revenue and provide a public good. But I do think that we the public tend to give an easy pass to sports teams and enable teams to demand more and more subsidies to keep them in town.

        FWIW, I find the current state of the arena quite satisfactory to me when I attend games, which is one reason for my skepticism for the need for improvements.

      • No problem.


        The HB1072 section talks about some of the tax rebates. I wasn’t too keen, but the net effect is positive.

        As far as the Arena upgrades, the situation is harder to measure for all the reasons you state. I’m not going to try to figure it out here, but rest assured that I am literally partway through a piece that examines the economic relationship berween the fan and the team and this is part of it. I’m not blowing you off. Quite the opposite. I take this seriously.

        Examples of other economic work:


    • The 50 million dollars come out of a fund that is SPECIFICALLY 100% DEDICATED TO IMPROVEMENT OF STATE FACILITIES. That money, by law, cannot be spent on healthcare, education, or any other item of the state budget. I wish ppl would figure this out, and stop yelling and screaming everytime money is spent on something other than healthcare or education. geez

  8. I’ve been to a few other arenas and even with my bias toward New Orleans our arena has always felt pretty underwhelming. Glad to hear of this.

  9. We know that Mickey Loomis is going to be very involved in the audio revamp. He oversaw the Dome’s wiring personally.

    I think that experiment can safely be called an unqualified success.

    Just think of being able to hear Vinnie Del Negro scream at jump shooters, like you were right there on the bench!

  10. Sorry! I know this isn’t on this topic, although i AM excited about the upcoming changes to the arena, but could you explain more about the hornets acquiring brad killer?? Wah

  11. These plans sound wonderful. I can’t wait for the season to begin and for the transformation of the arena. Looks like we’re getting a complete make over. Geaux Hornets. I want the Hornets and their home to be second to none. Let’s do this Hornets.

  12. Jason, thank you for the informative article. I’m glad to see the new ownership taking measures to make the atmosphere even more enjoyable. Between these renovations and the addition of Davis, the future appears bright. I love the idea of the atrium as well. Hopefully, the contractor who builds that structure installs some energy efficient windows, so that Mr. Benson can save money on heating and cooling bills and spend it on free agents instead! http://www.replacement-windows-houston.com/ Thanks again for this well-written, detailed report.

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