WHEN YOU BUILD IT. . . : . . .MONEY COMES
If you build it . . . then what happens?
Amid the jackhammer roar and splashes of cash, as a wave of new, ever-more distinctive NBA and NHL arenas open across the sports world to expectant audiences, there is only one titanic lesson to be learned as the projected L.A. arena crawls to completion:
Ultimately, after the deal-making and design theories are done, when the doors open and the games start and the ticket-buyers soak in the good, bad and ugly, you get what you pay--and plan--for.
More than a score of new arenas have been completed since 1988, and though a vast majority of them are pumping new life and money into their teams and owners, a few are not.
The difference between, say, the $175-million United Center in Chicago, home to the Bulls and Blackhawks since 1994, and the $52-million Miami Arena, home to the Heat and Panthers since 1988?
“Chicago has 212 suites which generate over $30 million in revenue a year,” said Eric Woolworth, general counsel of the Heat and a point man in plans to move out of the eight-year-old building. “We have 16 sky boxes that generate under $1 million a year.
“You can do that math.”
Miami Arena was built at the same time as the still very profitable Palace at Auburn Hills near Detroit, but was built in a less-than-ideal part of town and had its original plans for luxury suites scaled back.
How fast did the building grow stale? The Heat began looking to get out three years after it opened--and have plans to build a new arena in the resort area of town--and the Panthers, who are owned by the man who built the arena, Wayne Huizenga, have a deal for their own new building in Broward County.
“The Miami Arena was obsolete from the moment it was built,” said Ron Turner, a principal at NBBJ Sports and Entertainment, a leading sports architecture firm.
“The biggest lesson,” said Bill Robertson, public relations director of the Mighty Ducks, primary tenant of the Pond of Anaheim, “is location, location, location. . . . You have to have a family environment where people feel safe to come to your venue.”
And as the developers of the L.A. project near the selection of a site--either in downtown L.A. or in Inglewood--the lessons of Miami, and other troubled venues, ring loud.
Said Woolworth: “It wasn’t built for the ‘90s. It just wasn’t. What we’ve learned, we’ve learned in the negative. The arena is basically a relic: You know you want a wider concourse, better amenities for your fans; you want better parking for your fans. . . . “
If Miami Arena is the industry’s classic white elephant, a slew of more recent NBA-NHL arenas--from the United Center to the Gund Arena in Cleveland to America West Arena in Phoenix to the Pond--have dramatically upped the arena ante, from state-of-the-art sight lines to interactive areas for wandering ticket-buyers.
Among the just-up and soon-to-be-finished arenas, the average number of luxury suites is about 100, the costs are about $180 million to $220 million and the retail and interactive treats are burgeoning.
Since 1991, 13 new major indoor arenas have been built, and eight more are scheduled to open by the end of 1998.
In Philadelphia, where the $200-million CoreStates Center is scheduled to officially open later this month as the home of the NBA 76ers and the NHL Flyers, there will be an on-site microbrewery, 126 luxury suites, on-line kiosks, and a virtual-reality booth in which fans can step into the skates of an NHL goalie.
“We just booked Ray Charles to kind of shake the facility out, and we had about 11,000 people,” said Peter Luukko, president of the arena complex. The complex also includes the team’s former building, the Spectrum, which is next door to the new arena. “We did record food business, and I couldn’t believe so many people who kept making comments to me this is like going to the Disneyland of arenas.
“That’s the kind of feeling we wanted people to leave with. It really has paid off for us, you can see it already.”
Luukko, who used to operate the Sports Arena and Coliseum in L.A. for Spectacor Management Group, projects that the new arena, which is owned by the company that owns both the Flyers and the 76ers, will take in double the revenue of the old Spectrum--but also put the company $160 million in debt.
Luukko, eagerly observing the developments in L.A., says that expectations are higher for the future home of the Kings and Lakers than for any sports building yet built.
“In L.A., the pressure’s on,” Luukko said. “Obviously, it’s the entertainment capital of the world. It can’t be a vanilla arena.
“But on the other hand, you have all the excitement of L.A., the fact that stars come to every event, so it’ll be an exciting place to begin with. It’s amazing that Los Angeles does not have a major brand-new arena at this point and when it does have one it’ll be fantastic.”
At Seattle’s $74-million Key Arena, which opened last year as the home of the SuperSonics, the focus was on the sight lines, said Susan Mortensen, a vice president of the team’s business entity.
Key Arena, which has 58 luxury suites, came relatively inexpensively, she said, because the arena was a refurbishment of an already existing building on the site of the 1962 World’s Fair.
“From a team perspective, it’s kind of created a home-court advantage we didn’t have before,” Mortensen said. “It really is intimate. You don’t feel like you’re lost in there, but it seats 17,100 and it’s loud.”
Chris Brienza, a spokesman for the NBA, says that the desire--and ability--for each developer and owner to top the last project is healthy, and invigorating for the business.
“You always have something to point at, a new innovation to point at,” Brienza said. “The next guy says this is what I like, and they can kind of pick and choose for their new building the best of the best. It’s a luxury to have that.
“They’ve been so fast on the heels of each other, been able to capitalize on what the other guy has done and seen what works and either refine it and just flat-out duplicate it.”
Robertson of the Ducks said he believes that the Pond still serves as a model for newer buildings--including Portland’s $262-million Rose Garden, which opened last year, and the upcoming MCI Center in Washington, D.C., and Pepsi Center in Denver, which was developed by Tim Leiweke, who is now the Kings’ president and is spearheading the L.A. project.
And perhaps the L.A. arena?
“Tim Leiweke was down looking at our building several times,” Robertson said. “He made a statement to me saying, ‘We’d like to take your building, put it on rollers and take it to Denver.’ That’s probably the utmost compliment I’ve ever heard.”
But there are those who say that the Pond, despite its luxuries, is far from a perfect building. Even from the Pond, there are lessons to be learned.
“Everybody thinks it’s beautiful,” said Michael Hallmark of NBBJ. “We think it’s boring. And we think ultimately the team that’s in there will come to that conclusion and they’ll wind up doing a lot of renovations.”
Said James Poulson, a principal designer from the Ellerbe Becket architecture firm: “I think the way that the seating is configured, for the capacity that’s in the building, it could have been a lot more intimate.”
Woolworth, for his part, has become more than familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of all of the new arenas.
“Personally, in Seattle, the sight lines are perfect,” Woolworth said. “And the amenities you find outside of the bowl in Portland are really first class. I loved the Gund Arena. Overall, I think that’s my favorite. It’s a real intimate feeling.
“I don’t know how to compare it to our arena here, but you walk around this one, and Gund Arena, it’s night and day. Being a white elephant is not a good thing.”
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
RECENTLY BUILT ARENAS
A look at the most recent arenas built for NBA and NHL teams, with capacity, date opened and cost in millions of dollars:
* Pond of Anaheim/Anaheim (NHL Mighty Ducks)
Capacity--19,200; Opened--September 1993; Cost--120
* San Jose Arena/San Jose (NHL Sharks)
Capacity--20,000; Opened--October 1993; Cost--162.5
* United Center/Chicago (NBA Bulls, NHL Blackhawks
Capacity--23,500; Opened--November 1994; Cost--175
* Gund Arena/Cleveland (NBA Cavaliers
Capacity--20,562; Opened--November 1994; Cost--152
* Kiel Center/St. Louis (NHL Blues)
Capacity--19,287; Opened--October 1994; Cost--170
* FleetCenter/Boston (NBA Celtics, NHL Bruins)
Capacity--19,600; Opened--September 1995; Cost--160
* Key Arena/Seattle (NBA SuperSonics)
Capacity--17,100; Opened--November 1995; Cost--74
* Rose Garden/Portland (NBA Trail Blazers)
Capacity--21,500; Opened--October 1995; Cost--262
* GM Place/Vancouver (NBA Grizzlies, NHL Canucks)
Capacity--20,004; Opened--September 1995; Cost--160
* Palladium/Ottawa (NHL Senators)
Capacity--18,500; Opened--January 1996; Cost--80
* Molson Centre/Montreal (NHL Canadiens)
Capacity--21,221; Opened--March 1996; Cost--230
Compiled by Paul Singleton, Cary Schneider and Ara Najarian.
Source: Amusement Business magazine
Works in Progress
Major indoor arenas projected for opening in fall 1996 or later
Name of Arena (NHL & NBA teams using it): Canada Air Centre/Toronto (NBA Raptors)
Opening: November 1997
Name of Arena (NHL & NBA teams using it): CoreStates Center/Philadelphia (NBA 76ers, NHL Flyers)
Opening: September 1996
Name of Arena (NHL & NBA teams using it): Nashville Arena/Nashville (No NBA or NHL franchise)
Opening: December 1996
Name of Arena (NHL & NBA teams using it): Ice Palace/Tampa Bay (NHL Lightning)
Opening: October 1996
Name of Arena (NHL & NBA teams using it): Pepsi Center/Denver (NBA Nuggets, NHL Avalanche)
Opening: September 1997
Name of Arena (NHL & NBA teams using it): MCI Center/Washington, D.C. (NBA Bullets, NHL Capitals)
Opening: September 1997
Name of Arena (NHL & NBA teams using it): Oakland Coliseum Arena renovation (NBA Warriors)
Opening: November 1997
Name of Arena (NHL & NBA teams using it): Sunrise Arena/Miami (NHL Panthers)
Opening: November 1998
--Compiled by Paul Singleton, Cary Schneider and Ara Najarian.
Source: Amusement Business magazine
RECENTLY BUILT ARENAS (Southland Edition, C1)
ROSE GARDEN (Portland)
Opened: October 1995
Cost: $262 million
SAN JOSE ARENA
Opened: October 1993
Cost: $162.5 million
UNITED CENTER (Chicago)
Opened: November 1994
Cost: $175 million
GM PLACE (Vancouver)
Opened: September 1995
Cost: $160 million
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.