Transformations go on display in Hawks' new-look State Farm Arena

Paul Newberry | The Associated Press

Oct 24, 2018 10:08 AM ET

 

NBA.com's Sekou Smith gets an inside look at Atlanta's State Farm Arena.

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ATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Hawks may not win a lot of games this season.

Not to worry.

There will be plenty of options other than basketball for fans after a nearly $200 million arena renovation.

Want to work on your swing?

Check out the golf suites.

Need a trim?

Yep, there's a barber shop.

"This arena is for every single fan in the city of Atlanta," said Brett Stefansson, the general manager who oversaw the project. "We wanted to touch every aspect of it and make it special and unique."

The Hawks will debut their newly renamed State Farm Arena on Wednesday night, hosting the Mavericks in a home opener that features two of the NBA's most touted rookies, Atlanta's Trae Young and Dallas' Luka Doncic.

But both teams are in the midst of massive rebuilding projects that will likely take years to pay off - they posted matching 24-58 records a year ago and could be even worse this season - so fans might be checking out some of the arena's new amenities.

I can't even imagine once we get some people in here what it's going to feel like."

Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce

There are all sorts of fancy food items, from chicken and beignets to lemon pepper wings to a signature Italian pizza. Grammy-winning country star Zac Brown has his own place, which includes Southern-style gourmet dishes crafted by his personal chef and music memorabilia.

There are also three ritzy courtside clubs - including one which has a bar area shaped like the Hawks logo behind a basket, where fans can sip cocktails while they watch the game.

More budget-minded patrons can take advantage of a dozen discounted items such as $1 chips, $2 jumbo pretzels or a $4 bottomless bucket of popcorn, seizing on a popular trend that started next door at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the NFL Falcons and Atlanta United soccer team.

But it's some of the other features that figure to draw much of the attention in the new-look arena.

Most notably, there is Killer Mike's Swag Shop, a partnership with the Atlanta-based rapper that includes a full-service barber shop with four chairs facing the court on the second level, allowing customers to keep up with the home team while getting a fresh cut.

Or, if the game gets out of hand, the Topgolf Swing Suites might be a welcome alternative. While fans won't be able strike actual golf balls onto the court, they can try their luck on the simulators.

Hawks guard Kent Bazemore, an avid golfer, plans to slip up there himself before a game.

"I'll be up there smacking it around soon," he said, breaking into a sly grin.

Stefansson said the designers were focused on "creating a lot of different and distinct destinations, things than fans want to go seek out and experience." Bazemore called it a sign of the times, given that fans have myriad entertainment options and ever-shrinking attention spans.

"It's all about the experience," he said.

The aesthetics didn't go overlooked, either.

Massive clear glass windows were installed, providing views of the surrounding downtown area. Numerous walls were knocked down, allowing those on the concourses to keep up with the game even when they venture from their seats.

"People actually communicating, meeting new people, standing on the concourse talking about the game, it just opens it up for that community feel that we're trying to push here in Atlanta," Bazemore said.

The project also drew its share of criticism over $142.5 million in public funding , which cleared the way for the second-biggest project of its type in NBA history. It was surpassed only by Madison Square Garden in New York, where a $1 billion upgrade was carried out over three offseason from 2011-13.

This renovation - or "transformation," the preferred nomenclature of its supporters - was largely carried out over the past two summer breaks, a frenzied job that allowed little room for dallying or delay. The most striking part of the project was the removal of the stacked suites on one side of the building formerly known as Philips Arena , which required the Hawks to play all of last season with a giant covering over that construction zone and reduced capacity to just over 16,000.

Even now, with much of the work complete, the arena will seat only about 16,500 for basketball, a drop of almost 3,000 seats from the original configuration when the arena opened in 1999.

But the Hawks have traditionally been one of the NBA's worst-drawing seats, so there wasn't much hesitation about cutting back capacity to allow for a major upgrade.

"The first thing we knew needed to do was knock down that wall of suites. Take that premium area and redistribute it around the building a little more evenly," Stefansson said. "It creates a lot more balance in the building."

Many of the Atlanta players got their first look at their revamped home on Tuesday. After playing their first three games on the road, the Hawks practiced for nearly two hours on the newly installed court, beneath a massive new scoreboard and video screen.

They were impressed with the new surroundings, which includes a much larger locker room and training area.

So was first-year coach Lloyd Pierce.

"It's unbelievable what this looks like," he said, glancing around. "I can't even imagine once we get some people in here what it's going to feel like."


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