The Pelican Blog

Arena upgrades emphasize open space, fan comfort

By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer

From many vantage points within the seating bowl of the newly-renovated New Orleans Arena, fans may not be able to immediately detect much of a change between now and the past. Start walking through the building’s concourses, club areas and back hallways, however, and the difference is obvious.

During the ongoing $50 million project to upgrade the New Orleans NBA franchise’s home, there was a distinct emphasis on creating open spaces and increasing comfort for fans. In several instances, walls have been knocked down to build larger rooms and eliminate divisions that gave some portions of the arena a cramped feeling. A multitude of changes have been made to the arena, but the following are some of the most interesting improvements that were introduced during Monday’s tour for media members (the facility officially opens to the public Tuesday with a Michael Buble concert, followed by Wednesday's Pelicans-Heat preseason game):

• From a fan-interaction standpoint, one of the coolest additions is that courtside ticket holders eating or relaxing in the Chairman’s Club can now watch Pelicans players walk to and from the locker room to the court. The club’s glass windows have intermittent openings that will also allow fans to hear the players as they gather outside their locker room during pregame preparation.

• The new Pelicans team store inside the arena announced Monday a partnership with adidas that will greatly improve the quality and overall selection of merchandise. In a relatively rare agreement in the NBA, adidas will operate the 3,000-square-foot store. The company only has that operating arrangement with five NBA franchises. There will be six other adidas Pelicans merchandise stands located throughout the arena.

• The Pelicans’ locker room is slightly smaller in square footage than the previous setup, but has a much more modern look with wood paneling. The players’ nameplates and numbers have been displayed above the lockers.

• In Section 323, a Party Perch has been constructed that will allow fans to drink or eat and still have a view of the court. A portion of Section 323 seating was removed to accommodate the Party Perch, giving it a more open, spacious feel.

“Obviously we have to continue to evolve and stay modern,” said Doug Thornton, SMG’s Executive Vice President of Stadiums and Arenas. “That’s what we tried to do with these modern features. We’re very happy with the way it turned out, particularly the look and the feel of it. This design reflects a more modern, urban environment that you might find at an upscale W hotel. It’s what young audiences are attracted to.”

This summer’s work was considered Phase I of the project. Phase II will take place next summer, at the conclusion of the Pelicans’ 2013-14 season.

“These improvements will improve the game-day experience for our fans,” Pelicans President Dennis Lauscha said. “We’re very excited about the fact that we’re going to have an absolutely outstanding place for our fans. The game-day experience will be taken to a new level with many of the amenities we have in place.”