The Smoothie King Center has gone through as many name changes as its lead tenant since its construction as the New Orleans Arena in 1999. Built at a cost of $144 million, and taking just under four years from the breaking of ground to the first event, the arena is home to the New Orleans Pelicans (formerly Hornets) of the NBA. The location of the arena in the New Orleans Central business District, and adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (home of the Saints), makes it an ideal spot to watch top level basketball being played.
As with many multi-use arenas, the Smoothie King Center has a number of different seating configurations for different types of events. The standard seating arrangement for Pelicans games is 16,867, but the basketball seating capacity can actually be expanded to 18,500 for NBA playoff games and NCAA basketball tournament contests. The premium seating at the arena is made up of 2,800 club seats and 56 high end luxury suites. One cool configuration of the arena is the half stage set up for concerts which turns the center into a much more intimate 7,500 seat facility.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 the New Orleans Arena became a staging ground for medical operations in the city. The arena’s design had been tested by a wind engineering consultancy firm in 1996, so it held up much greater than the Superdome did despite the proximity of the two buildings. Without the poor lighting, soggy carpets and leaking roof of the bigger building, the New Orleans Arena was able to reopen to select activities just one month after the storm hit.
The Smoothie King Center has undergone multiple renovation phases during its history, allowing the turn of the 21st century building to compete with others in the NBA in terms of amenities. The first big upgrade was focused on the scoreboard, ribbon displays and a see-through shot clock, all providing a greater fan experience with improved video displays and advertising opportunities. In 2013 further upgrades to the arena were made, focusing on the club suites and installing the awesome party perch, an area which is about a fitting for New Orleans and anything anyone could design.
The renovations are not only inside the building either. There is a glass enclosed front entrance lobby which was new for the 2014-15 season, with a giant LED board above the entrance tying the outside of the city to the inside of the Smoothie King Center. There was also a 2,000 square foot sports lounge, complete with patio deck, which was installed above the front entrance to the building to get people together on game days.
The overall effect of these renovations is that there is no feeling at all that the Smoothie King Center is a 15 year old building. All the upgrades which have been added to trick out the building have been with the intention of increasing the fan experience and making going to a Pelicans game seem more fun than watching it on a big screen at home. When all is said and done the $114 million facility feels like, and looks like, something which teams are spending $400 to $500 million on today.
image courtesy of nba.com