Whether it's a game night, concert or a family show, the experience inside the Ford Center is turning into one that is second to none.
Several phases of renovations are slowly bringing the 8-year-old arena up to today's standards and putting the building on par with some of the best in the country.
In March 2008, city leaders put on a full-court press for a 1-cent sales tax to finance improvements to the arena. That push ultimately helped encourage citizens to pass the vote with overwhelming support. Now, the Ford Center is creeping closer to completion. And though the end product remains more than a year away, the upgrades already are making a major difference.
Before the start of the 2009-10 NBA season, the Ford Center received a face-lift that included a new state-of-the-art scoreboard, loge seating in both end zones and a plush new courtside club. Renovations to the building's bathrooms and 300-level and club concourse also made the arena more inviting.
But the best is yet to come.
Construction on a new grand entry on the southwest side of the building will begin in the fall and could be completed in time for the 2011-12 season. The 100 level also will receive the same makeover to the finishes on the floors, walls and ceilings that the club and 300 levels received last summer.
"It's going to be more up-to-date and a bit more modern, what you would expect to see in a brand-new building," said Gary Desjardins, the building's general manager.
Smaller yet significant amenities like a wider variety of food at concession stands have also been incorporated. A new restaurant on the 100 level is in the plans, as well as bars and other social areas such as a kid's fun zone.
Since the Ford Center was designed in the mid-1990s and opened in 2002 to meet standard NBA and NHL specifications, the building lacked some of the most basic features. The bland finishes throughout the building and narrow seating, Desjardins said, were the two most popular complaints.
The Ford Center tax, though, was supposed to squash most complaints. Originally projected to raise $121 million, about $20 million was designated for the construction of a separate practice facility. The funds came in lower than projected, but with an original price tag of $90 million, the Ford Center will have cost roughly $200 million after renovations.
It will make the downtown arena one of the NBA's best buildings and best bargains.
"When it's all said and done, we're going to have a great building that is paid for and was significantly less expensive than buildings being built today but has a lot of the same amenities," Desjardins said.