Thunder: Chesapeake Energy Arena glitters
We’ve written a lot about the Thunder’s new practice facility. Which we should. I haven’t been through all of it, but from my limited view, it’s pristine. Looking forward to a tour.
But that’s a building very few people will get to see. Or care to. Chesapeake Energy Arena is a different story. Over the next few years, a good percentage of Oklahomans will enter the building formerly known as the Ford Center, and when they do, they will be very pleased.
The renovations to the ‘Peake are not complete, but the upgrades that already are in place are exceptional. New flooring on the main concourse, with a white, bright tile replacing the old concrete. New lighting and signage. The place looks completely different and is very sharp. You will notice an immediate difference.
The original Ford Center was a functional building, and NBA upgrades improved it even more. But let’s be honest. It was built bare bones, with few frills, and the latest improvements have changed the building dramatically for the good.
When you go to a ballgame or concert or a convention, you will immediately feel a sense of pride in Oklahoma City. That’s what public works projects like the ‘Peake are supposed to do.
And when the new grand entrance opens facing south/southwest, the building will be even more spectacular. I don’t know when that construction is scheduled for completion. Probably next summer. And that entrance will remain sort of secondary as long as the Crosstown Expressway exists, since that entrance literally is 50-100 feet from the elevated freeway.
But the Crosstown is scheduled for removal as I-40 is shifted a few blocks south. When the boulevard goes in along the south side of the ‘Peake, the whole appearance will be transformed. For now, the interior transformation is impressive enough.
Nine years ago, I wrote about the Ford Center’s shabby presentation. How it was great that we had a 19,000-seat arena, but it certainly didn’t instill pride in the city the way other MAPS projects and civic improvements did. Those concerns have been rectified.
Here is that column from Aug. 25, 2002:
Ford Center unravels city’s first-class image
By Berry Tramel
|Sunday, August 25, 2002
Edition: CITY, Section: SPORTS, Page 1-C
KINDLY Uncle Leroy drives up from Abilene, or snooty cousin Tiffany flies in from the Cape.
You want to show off your fair town. You want to bust with pride at Oklahoma City and its vision in recent years.
How we’ve taken our home from sleepy frontier town to progressive New West city in a decade, with change to spare.
Bricktown and its ballpark. The sparkling library under construction. The new Oklahoma City Art Museum. The renovated Civic Center, the jewel of the MAPS projects and the coolest building in this and several states.
They all send the same message. The message we want the world to know: OKC is a first-class city.
The Ford Center says something much different. The 20,000-seat, downtown arena that cost $90 million tells the world that we do only the minimum, that we do just enough to get by.
The most expensive piece of Oklahoma City’s master plan is its most disappointing.
The Ford Center opened two months ago, and critics have panned its seats and its sound system. The sound system can be fixed, if need be. The seats, we are stuck with. I’m joining the parade with another banner: The Ford Center is nothing to be proud of.
I didn’t expect the Ford Center to be wondrous, and it’s not. But I didn’t expect it to be dingy, either, and it is. And uncomfortable. A two-headed dragon plagues a two-month-old building.
The Ford Center is functional. Nothing more.
The Ford Center doesn’t glitter, which is OK. From the outside, either walking along Reno Avenue or driving past on I-40, the Ford Center doesn’t look bad. Nothing fancy, but fancy is not mandatory. Sports arenas, even new ones, don’t need to glitter.
But new sports arenas do need to look new. New sports arenas do need to provide patrons with a minimum comfort level.
The Ford Center fails. In the nine years from passage of the MAPS vote to the Ford Center opening, we wondered how we could build a 20,000-seat arena for only $90 million, when other cities were spending two, three, sometimes four times as much money for a major-league facility.
Now we know. You get what you pay for.
The arena bowl itself looks sharp. Its lining of deep blue seats and luxury suites has a big-league feel. And then you sit down.
Simply put, the Ford Center’s seats aren’t wide enough and its leg room not long enough.
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