I got the opportunity to tour the new BOK Center in Tulsa earlier this month and couldn’t help but make comparisons to the Ford Center every step of the way. The building is absolutely gorgeous, with small details throughout the venue that make the place very warm and inviting. Taxpayers in Tulsa paid $178 million for the multi-purpose arena and an additional $30 million in private donations allowed for more enhancements. You can clearly see what more than twice as much as the $90 million price tag of the Ford Center gets you.
The outside of the 18,000-seat arena will blow you away. The design sort of reminds me of Portland’s Rose Garden, only with a lot more glass, (50,000 square feet of it to be exact), which is really the most impressive aspect of the arena in my opinion. Once inside, you’re greeted by a wide and bright atrium, highlighted by the icon glass wall, an adjacent ramp that allows you to walk alongside the icon wall and up to the second level and finally a centerpiece of what will be some sort of art structure. This is the feel the Ford Center is going for by expanding the building in the renovations and building a new grand entrance on the southwest side of the arena.
Not much special about the inside of the arena, by that I mean the actual room in which events take place not the inside of the entire building, save the extremely impressive scoreboard. To say the scoreboard is nice is like saying LeBron James is a good NBA player. This thing is amazing. It has three levels, highlighted by eight LED screens instead of the typical four. Four of the screens are 8-by-14 foot and the other four are 8-by-8 foot. On the scoreboard’s second level is a nine-foot tall wraparound HD screen and another three-foot tall wraparound screen below it on the third level. This is the type of scoreboard you get for a grand total of $3.5 million.
The tour guide did say that there is more space between seats at the BOK center’s lower bowl than the Ford Center’s lower bowl. And the BOK Center managed to do so while leaving cup holders in every seat of the lower bowl. Personally, I didn’t see or feel a big difference, but then again, I’ve never had any complaints about the Ford Center’s seating although I’ve heard a lot of grumbling.
The building’s concourses are also what sets it apart from the Ford Center. I walked into one of the restrooms to see if they were anything special and the answer is yes. I always shook my head and laughed on the inside whenever I heard OKC officials talk about renovations to the restrooms. But after seeing fresh paint, bright lights, modern mirrors, commodes and sinks in the BOK Center, it’s the little things like that that make arenas more inviting.
The BOK Center’s concourses also have more impressive finishes than the Ford Center. The first level has terrazzo flooring with mother of pearl, the second level is completely carpeted and the third level is a standard sealed concrete. (The common man in the upper deck never gets the good stuff. The seats are also said to be a lot more narrow upstairs.) Another impressive feature is stainless steel concessions. This is something the Ford Center is looking to upgrade, with its remodel including permanent concessions.
The suites are extremely plush, more so than the Ford Center’s, which also are slated to see upgrades to make them more lavish. The seats are oversized leather chairs with a wood board in between each seat to give you space to put your drinks or food or whatever else. Unlike the Ford Center, which has suites enclosed by glass, the BOK Center’s suites are completely open to allow unobstructed views and make the patrons feel more a part of the action. The BOK Center also has loge seats at one end of the arena, something the Ford Center will have after the remodel. There are 20 loge suites with four seats in each box. They’re a little more private and plush than the lower bowl and club seats but less lavish than a suite.
One of the last things I saw was the locker room for the Tulsa Oilers. They did it real big with oversized wooden cubicles in a spacious main locker room. They added another room called the “Street locker” room with even more cubicles for the players to store items such as backpacks, laptops and street clothes etc. They also have a player’s lounge and a high-tech training room. They even had a “Stick repair” room in the locker room.
It all made me anticipate the completion of the Ford Center even more. We’ll see how Oklahoma City’s arena compares when it’s all said and done.
Thanks to Ben Edwards and Kelli Bailey for the tour and Carolyn Kubiak for the photos.