Apr 24, 2009
Thunder home to get face-lift
Thunder home to get face-lift
by Kelley Chambers
The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Ford Center posted strong attendance numbers in March, the final month before renovations began.
“We are officially shut down at the Ford Center,” said Gary Desjardins, general manager of the Ford Center. “We’ll open back up in October.”Desjardins provided an update on the facility to members of the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau on Thursday. He oversees the arena and exhibit halls at the Cox Business Services Convention Center.
By the time the Thunder hits the court next season, there will be several changes made to the Ford Center. The publicly funded Ford Center was completed in 2002 at a cost of $89 million. In anticipation of luring an NBA team, Oklahoma City voters approved $120 million in improvements to the center in 2008.
Some of that work has been completed, but a major project will include renovation of several areas of the center by October. Desjardins said when the center reopens there will be changes, some not noticeable at first glance. Other areas will not really be touched during renovations.
“When you walk through the doors in the entry level, you won’t see a whole lot,” he said. “That’s probably the only level that’s not getting a huge makeover.”
Desjardins said several bunker suites, which will not have a view of the arena bowl, will be added. Suites will be ripped out at each end of the bowl to make room for two large clubs.
Those who purchase seats close to the floor will find they have a little more room to move. Several rows near the courtside will be expanded and some seats will be eliminated. Seating will be added to other areas near the court that have been underutilized.
“Right now we have these big open areas that we’re now going to take advantage of and increase the seating capacity,” Desjardins said.
Private suites around the bowl will receive a face-lift and flat-screen televisions.
A new scoreboard will hang over the center of the court.
Desjardins said three companies presented plans for the scoreboard.
“The good news is I don’t think we can really make a bad decision on that in terms of the quality,” he said. “It’s just picking which one is the best.”
The Thunder team will get a new locker room at the expense of storage space. The existing locker room will be converted to a courtside club.
One of the major challenges Desjardins anticipates when basketball season resumes is the loss of the storage space. New storage space is not set to be added until the final phase. Until then, management will have to find creative ways to store all of the items and props needed for Thunder games.
A third phase of renovations will begin in 2010.
In March, Desjardins reported the Ford Center hosted 251,774 people during 30 events for direct spending in excess of $25 million. Across the street the Cox Center had 105,365 people pass through the doors for events in March. Much of that traffic at both venues was from the American Choral Directors Association convention, Big 12 basketball tournaments and Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc. yearly meetings.
For the basketball configuration, the Cox Center can seat 19,136 people.
Michael Carrier, president of the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau, is working to keep both venues full in the coming years.
Carrier said he and his staff continue to lure groups to the state for conventions. The results from a third-quarter report showed the CVB has 173 national, regional and state conventions booked for future events, up from 124 during the same time last year. Future direct spending for those meetings is expected to have an economic impact in the city of more than $176 million.
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