OKC Arena Completes Construction

Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City completes the renovation that secured them an NBA team

  • by Jessica Boudevin
  • Published: November 7, 2012

The new entrance at Chesapeake Energy Arena. (Photo Credit: Rob Ferguson)

It’s a slam-dunk for Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Oklahoma City, Okla., venue is ready to wrap up more than three years of construction. In that time, the facility has added an National Basketball Association team, a new broadcast system and video board, new terrace seating and a new entrance, to name a few. The $95-million project was paid for through a voter-approved tax increase, and included improvements to bring the facility up to NBA standards.

This project was tackled in phases, the first of which included installing broadcast wiring and new lighting, as well as upgrading restrooms throughout the building.

For round two of renovations, the building worked through the basketball season and then closed for five months in the summer of 2009. The upper level concourse was refinished, new terrace suites and lounges were added, as well as upgraded and retractable seating in the lower bowl. Renovations to locker rooms took place, and a $3.9-million, 46,000-pound scoreboard was added.

The facility can seat up to 18,203 for basketball games.

The most recent renovations include a new Grand Entrance in the southwest of the building. The entrance includes a multistory atrium and terrazzo tile flooring. The Center Court Grill is a new full-service restaurant that will open before all events at the arena, and a new OU Children’s Physicians Kids Zone offers games to entertain children who come to the arena.

“The majority of the renovations are complete but we are still working on a new team office space,” said facility GM Gary Desjardins. However, all renovations to team and fan spaces are finished.

Construction was handled by a number of companies throughout the course of the project, including Wynn Construction, Flintco, Design Build, and Manhattan Construction.

“We closed the facility during the last three summers so that the majority of the work for renovations was completed in between seasons, but it was still challenging,” said Desjardins. “The SMG staff worked very closely with the City of Oklahoma City, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the architects and contractors to minimize any disruptions in providing services to our guests.”

Chesapeake Energy Arena wasn’t originally built with the NBA in mind. In 1993, Oklahoma City voters passed a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax for five years to fund nine different capital improvement projects as part of the MAPS program. One of these projects was the sports arena, which broke ground in the spring of 1999 and opened June 8, 2002.

The facility is owned by the city and operated by SMG.

“We initially attracted the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets to Oklahoma City after Hurricane Katrina,” said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. “That kind of exposed our audience and the NBA to the idea that it could work in Oklahoma City.”

The Hornets returned to New Orleans, and Oklahoma City was left wanting more. Ultimately, the Seattle Sonics decided to leave Washington. Oklahoma secured the team — to be called the Oklahoma City Thunder — but only conditional on improving the arena.

“Our citizens went to the polls again in the spring of 2008 and passed a 15-month penny-on-the-dollar sales tax to improve the Chesapeake Energy Arena and also to build the team a practice facility,” added Mayor Cornett.

The second tax raised $95 million for the facility improvements and $18 million for the Thunder’s training and development center.

The Thunder had their inaugural season at the arena in 2008-2009.

“When the SMG staff and the City of Oklahoma City started working on the project there were three goals: to meet NBA requirements, enhance revenue-generating opportunities and improve the guest experience,” said Desjardins. “The most satisfying aspect of the project is that we successfully achieved all three objectives.”

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Construction on the new entrance at Chesapeake Energy Arena. (Photo Credit: Rob Ferguson)

The uniqueness of citizens voting to be taxed in order to make improvements to a sports arena is not lost on Desjardins, who said he is, “proud of the fact that the people of Oklahoma City are willing to invest in themselves.”

Mayor Cornett agrees, saying that he doesn’t think these taxation votes would succeed anywhere else.

He said he thinks that the citizens have gotten on board with taxation to continue renovations because they’ve seen the success of government projects around the city.

“I think by now the MAPS brand is very strong and the city government has a history of doing what it said it was going to do, and these projects have either met or exceeded the expectations of the citizens,” said Mayor Cornett. “They have gone to the polls continually now and have supported initiatives that are largely centered around downtown improvements.”

“We are very lucky,” he added.

Interviewed for this story: Mayor Mick Cornett, (405) 297-2424; Gary Desjardins, (405) 602-5126 

  • by Jessica Boudevin
  • Published: November 7, 2012
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