On Thursday, I went to Philips Arena to check out the progress of the Atlanta Hawks $192 million dollar renovation of the building. Led by Chief Operating Officer Thad Sheely and Philips Arena General Manager Brett Stefansson, the tour began in the arena’s loading dock, which has become more or less a truck stop in the last few weeks.
When we entered the lower bowl of the arena where the court would usually be placed, the first thing that was immediately noticeable was the eardrum rattling noise. Most of this noise was coming from some peculiar looking machines all around the arena’s lower risers. Sheely explained to the tour that these machines were actually industrial sanders brought in to remove decades of grime buildup and general filth off the Philips Arena concrete floors. Upon further inspection, the floors have been graded down to a smooth finish which looks brand new when compared to what it has been in recent seasons.
Our tour then moved on towards the opposite side of the arena, away from the loading dock, where I asked Stefansson about the newest LED boards coming to the arena this fall. He explained to me that the new video boards will be a dramatic upgrade over the boards used in the past seasons at the Arena.
The new center court scoreboard will stretch from free throw line to free throw line over the court and will have inward facing and outward facing video boards. The size difference is so dramatic that the much smaller inner video boards are still larger in size than the old Philips Arena video board was in total size.
They also plan to install two ribbon boards around the whole perimeter of the stadium along with two more video boards over the suite levels for statistics viewing and replays. “Once complete,” Stefansson said, “Philips will boast the most LED boards of any arena in the NBA with all boards being in stunning HD.”
That isn’t where the technological advances stop either. Philips has long been known for its versatility in use with it playing host to many concerts and other large scale events and the arena’s management has figured out how to make the most of this renovation to benefit all uses. There will be some serious amounts of hardwood installed around the arena including in the upper bowls on the walls.
Stefansson explained to me that this is not only aesthetic but also serves a purpose for boosting the acoustics in the stadium. This will allow for the fans voices to be heard during games in an effort to keep the noise inside the stadium to create one of the best “home court” advantages in the entire league. The hardwood also will be great for concerts as it aids the level of sound quality and crispness to make the experience more enjoyable for patrons.
We then moved on to the new club levels, where Sheely explained that the largest challenge in an arena remodel like this one is figuring out how to come up with more square footage with limited space. Well, for starters, contractors have removed the old Hawks practice facility and the old hockey locker rooms (moment of silence for the Thrashers) and boosted the usable fan space at Philips by nearly 100,000 square feet.
Those old practice facilities and locker rooms are set to become “The Players Club” which is set to become basically a sports bar inside the arena. The club will boast views into the players tunnel and even allow fans to give high fives to players before games. Fans will also be able to get a view of Lloyd Pierce in his post-game press conferences, as well as watch the game on one of the previously mentioned HD video boards standing at 11 feet by 4 feet in size.
Our tour then took us to the opposite side of the court, where another new club will be constructed called “The Chef’s Club.” Stefansson explained that the club has been designed by Atlanta’s own Ai3 Architects, who are responsible for some of Atlanta’s most famous restaurants and eateries.
The club will be headed up by Chef Joe, formerly of Bacchanalia, who is an Atlanta legend for his culinary genius. Sheely explained that this club is meant more to be a social hub that can also become intimate for families with seating aside from the larger area of the room where people are meant to socialize.
The tour then took us up a service elevator to what is soon to become the new loft suites. Stefansson showed that the arena felt the old suites kept people isolated and stifled interaction so the remodel has knocked down the old walls and is revamping the space entirely.
“There are three parts to every suite,” Stefansson explained. “The experience is made up of food, socialization and viewing the game.”
Sheely continued to say how the newer suites would be a totally new experience. The arena will be extending each suite’s viewing area outwards and shrinking the capacity of each section from 21 seats to 12. Privacy is an option via curtains behind each viewing area in case business needs to be conducted. Food will now come from a central hub near the end of the suite where folks can socialize and interact while still getting the luxury of a suite experience.
The next area explored had some pretty impressive numbers to boast. Our tour led to the upper level concourse which used to be narrow and mostly for walking only. Thanks to a new support beam, that is all about to change. “We have removed 3 million pounds of concrete from the stadium,” Sheely explained. “And replaced old concrete columns with a massive central support beam which really helps the arena focus on its new goal of creating more openness.”
It is clear the focus is on creating a culture of socialization and making the experience feel more memorable through interactions. The new upper concourse level will feature bars, concessions and new views of the Mercedes Benz stadium through Philips Arena’s glass windows that were previously not exposed.
Sheely went on to explain that little seating has been lost and the remaining seating has become more spaced out around the stadium to make things feel less cramped. A new walkway around the lower bowl now offers fans a full 360 degree walk that was previously not possible.
Most all of the seating in the arena will be brand new and more comfortable than the older seats as well as more points of sale being opened around the stadium to hopefully minimize wait times to virtually non-existent. Capacity will move down from the pre-renovation maximum of 18,047 to 17,500 in an effort to hopefully spread things out even more. The arena will have more warm and inviting lights as well as much more visible angles from all walkways in an effort to make sure you never miss any of the action.
The tour finally ended at a spot familiar to Hawks fans that have visited Philips Arena in the past at Atlanta Social. Atlanta Social will be remaining mostly the same but will now become accessible from the arena’s new bar called “Center Court.” Crews were working on the support beams for what is to become a new bridge over the Center Court area while we were there. The bridge will offer walks from Atlanta Social to viewing areas of the game and will even house a bar named “The Bridge Bar” in what is surely one of the coolest arena quirks anywhere in the NBA.
Below you’ll see the two pillars that the bridge will start between.
Overall, what we saw on Thursday was very impressive and the largest part of the renovations is still to come as Stefansson explained September expects the crews to do $24 million dollars worth of work in that month alone.
Crews of 450 are currently working two 10-hour shifts every day, which will amp up to 800 workers in September in an effort to hit the finish deadline. The goal is for the entire arena’s renovations to be completed by Oct. 15, except for one club level opposite of the courtside bar called “The Legends Club” which will be completed in 2019.
Stay tuned for more to come.