Before you get both feet inside the doors of Chesapeake Energy Arena, a video cylinder spanning 92 feet around commands your eye.
Bust a right, march toward the 100-level concourse and everything, from lighting to signage to the floor and ceiling, is brighter, crisper and cleaner than before.
Welcome to the newly renovated arena on Reno Avenue.
The improvements are a slice of the final wave of a three-phase renovation project Oklahoma City residents in 2008 voted to approve with a one-cent sales tax.
“Somebody asked me ‘What do you hope for people to see and say when they walk in,'” said Gary Desjardins, the arena's general manager. “I hope they say ‘wow.'”
Desjardins got his wows Monday night, when the arena opened its doors for its first event — a WWE show — following the completion of the majority of projects included in the $36 million final phase.
But it's the building's most frequent patrons — Oklahoma City Thunder fans — that may not experience the new look for quite some time.
The NBA's labor dispute has resulted in an owner-imposed lockout of the league's players. Games have been, and more than likely will continue to be, canceled. The Thunder already has lost two preseason home games and two regular-season home games in the wake of the conflict.
The Thunder was scheduled to make its debut inside the renovated Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday, in an exhibition game against Charlotte.
If no deal is reached between owners and players on a new collective bargaining agreement by next week, the final two weeks of the November schedule could be wiped out as well.
That would erase five more home games, leaving Thunder fans unable to see their home arena unless it's for acts like Chris Brown and Taylor Swift, the 20-something pop stars who come to town this week.
“I think everybody is disappointed because of just the high that we experienced last year with the playoff run and what the expectations were for this year and looking forward to having that much fun,” said Desjardins. “And going to a Thunder game is just a great experience. There's nothing like it.”
Chesapeake Energy Arena, however, won't sit idle until professional basketball returns. Brown is scheduled to play the arena Wednesday night, and Swift will be in town Saturday. Larry the Cable Guy is scheduled one week after Swift.
The improvements should help concert and show goers enjoy their evenings even more. Many of the upgrades are aesthetic, although those who wish to live green will be pleased to know recycling bins have been added throughout.
The cylinder that greets patrons as they walk through the doors of the northeast entrance is one of several video boards and high-end television sets that have been added. At the northwest entrance, another video board, this one in the shape of a shield, hangs on the wall. Adjacent to it is an enormous projection screen that sits above the escalator leading to the club level.
Throughout the 100 level, 20 wedge-shaped televisions have been added along the concourse. Like every other new television and video board, they're capable of playing live footage from games or concerts as well as advertising.
“People like to see their tax dollars used wisely,” said Tim Linville, director of sales and marketing at SMG, the company that manages the arena. “When they come in here, they can look at it and say, ‘Wow. I can actually see what my money was for.' I think that's important to a lot of people.”
The most impressive and inviting improvement is to the floors, walls and ceiling of the 100 level. It might sound mundane and minor to anyone who never saw the before shot.
Gray concrete floors have been replaced with bright, multicolored terrazzo painted in the Thunder's orange, blue and white colors. Walls have benefited from a can of paint like you wouldn't believe. The ceiling has been dropped, finished and improved with additional lighting. New way-finding signage such as numbered seating sections and informative directional instructions also has been added.
“You look at the concourse and it's not one thing that stands out,” Desjardins said. “It's everything and how it's kind of pulled together.”
On the outside of the building, a 74-foot wide, 20-foot tall video board displays advertising and live footage. The arena also has added additional eating options throughout the concourse and is in the process of completing renovations on clubs and restaurants, as well as a grand entrance on the southwest side of the building that will be ready in June 2012.
“It brings us to one of the nicest buildings in the NBA,” Linville said. “It allows our fans to have one of the overall better fan experiences. We're competing with buildings in cities throughout the country, and now it brings us up into that top tier of all NBA buildings.”