Proposal for Chesapeake would prolong life of arena

Aerial image of Chesapeake Energy Arena in downtown Oklahoma City. Dave Morris | The Oklahoman

A better Loud City

MAPS 4 proposal for Chesapeake would prolong life of arena, backers say

The MAPS 4 proposal on the ballot next month includes more than $100 million to update Chesapeake Energy Arena to keep it competitive as an NBA host and concert site, according to those who developed a wish list for the building.

Oklahoma City, which owns the building, and the Thunder, the primary tenant, have proposed replacing all the seats, enlarging entrances, adding restaurants at the top and bottom levels, installing a new scoreboard, building necessary storage space and other improvements.

The arena, which was funded under the first MAPS question in 1993 and opened in 2002, meets the current NBA specifications and attracts major touring acts and other events. None of the proposed improvements were sought by the NBA or have been promoted as necessary to keep the Thunder in Oklahoma City.

Dan Mahoney, the chief spokesman for the Thunder, said all the proposals presented to Oklahoma City council members would contribute to Chesapeake Energy Arena’s “long-term viability, long-term success, both from the team’s standpoint as well as the community’s standpoint.”

“We think this building is an asset to Oklahoma City, especially the downtown area. Through MAPS money, as we’re building around it, it has to keep up.

“Sports is a competitive, it’s a competitive business. And we’re competing for our fans’ dollars and their time. In an era of Netflix and Postmates, we have to make this a really special experience for our fans.”

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Oklahoma City voters will decide on Dec. 10 whether to extend the MAPS penny sales tax for eight years to fund nearly $1 billion in projects. An estimated $115 million would go toward Chesapeake and the Thunder’s practice facility in northwest Oklahoma City. If sales tax revenue meets projections, the arena would receive about $104 million, with the rest going to the practice facility.

The arena was built for $89.5 million. When the Thunder moved to Oklahoma City in 2008, voters approved a sales tax increase that provided about $93 million to upgrade the arena to NBA specifications. Should the MAPS 4 proposal pass and the proposed improvements be made, the arena’s total cost would approach $300 million.

Direct comparisons to arenas in other cities are difficult because of wide variations in land, labor and other costs.

Tom Anderson, special projects manager for Oklahoma City, said the typical life span of arenas like Chesapeake is 30 to 40 years.

“We’re almost two-thirds of the way to the 30-year mark,” he said. “By the time MAPS 4 is completed, we’ll be at the precipice of that.”

Chesapeake should be viable beyond the age of 30, though there is no way to know now how much longer, he said.

In addition to the Chesapeake money, MAPS 4 proposes a $37 million soccer stadium on a site to be determined. Much of the rest of the money in MAPS 4 would be directed to social services, including mental health and homelessness, and to parks and recreation centers.

Sundra Flansburg, a board member of Voices Organized in Civic Engagement (VOICE), which pushed for the social components to be included, said the group is backing the MAPS 4 package and accepts the sports facility funding as necessary to attract broader support.

She said the sports facilities are “not our favorite part of it, but we are very excited about the rest of it. … Politics is politics. And we got a much, much better package.”

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Tom Anderson, special projects manager with the city of Oklahoma City, talks about Loud City recently at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Sarah Phipps | The Oklahoman

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MAPS 4 would allocate $115 million for improvements at Chesapeake Energy Arena and the Oklahoma City Thunder’s practice facility in Oklahoma City. In addition to being home to the Thunder, the arena hosts concerts, conventions, graduation ceremonies and other events throughout the year.

Carrie Underwood performs during a concert at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Bryan Terry | The Oklahoman

Chesapeake Energy Arena, left, is shown next to the new convention center under construction in downtown Oklahoma City. Sarah Phipps | The Oklahoman

Oklahoma City’s Hamidou Diallo goes up for a dunk during a game at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Bryan Terry | The Oklahoman

We think this building is an asset to Oklahoma City, especially the downtown area. Through MAPS money, as we’re building around it, it has to keep up.”

Dan Mahoney
OKC Thunder spokesman

Proposed changes

About half of the money targeted for the arena would be used to give fans more space, more food options and more restrooms, according to Anderson.

The proposals include:

• An expansion of the area at the northeast entry, where about 60% of patrons pass through, creating a pinch point before games or concerts. The expansion would allow more space for foot traffic. Planners also want to move the souvenir store to that vicinity and create a food court.

• An expansion of the 300 seating level, known as Loud City, to give the upper deck fans some of the same amenities as those below, mostly more space to congregate and some sit-down dining options. More restrooms and elevators are part of the plan.

• An outdoor patio on the second level.

• Replacing all the original seats on every level.

• Installing a new scoreboard with a 34-foot by 19-foot video board. The video board in place is 20 feet by 10 feet. Video monitors would be placed above seating tunnels.

No new seating is planned in the arena, which currently accommodates about 18,000 for an NBA game.

What the new ‘Peake would look like

Some of the money included in MAPS 4 would be used for various renovations and improvements at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Those projects include a new northeast entry interior that includes an expanded concourse to alleviate foot traffic and new shops and restaurants; a new food court with additional restaurant-style seating; and Loud City upgrades with expanded concourse views, a new seating level, additional restrooms and a new dining and beverage area with expanded space.

A rendering shows a wider concourse and expanded lobby for Chesapeake Energy Arena’s northeast entryway. | Provided

An illustration of a potential food court with restaurant-style seating. | Provided

An artist’s concept of expanded dining space in Loud City. | Provided

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Operating in the red

In addition to the nearly $200 million of sales tax revenue spent to build and modify the arena, Oklahoma City taxpayers have been subsidizing its operations.

In the last fiscal year, the city had to give the arena management company, ASM Global, about $4.2 million to cover expenses not met by revenue, according to Anderson and revenue figures from ASM.

The Thunder pays $40,000 per game in rent, which equates to $1.6 million for the regular season. The rent is the same for playoff games. The team pays game expenses of $28,000 per home game. The city also gets concession, naming rights and other revenue from the team.

The arena hosted about 40 events in the past year, including concerts, bull riding, boxing and monster truck displays. Still, the arena finished in the red.

Anderson said setting rental rates for the NBA team and touring acts was “a delicate balance.”

Promoters can find another venue, often within 150 miles, if they don’t like the rate, Anderson said. The arena competes with the BOK Center in Tulsa for shows, even though both are managed by the same company.

Mahoney said the Thunder did not approach the city about including Chesapeake upgrades in MAPS 4 and that there is no implicit threat from the team to move if the improvements aren’t made.

“This is a terrific building and the city has been a terrific landlord,” Mahoney said.

“We just want to move it into the future, with an emphasis on fan amenities, making that guest experience the best it can be when they come in the building and that’s everything from the restrooms to the seats to the scoreboard to the food and beverages to parking to whatever else is part of the experience.”

What will you pay?

The Oklahoman’s MAPS 4 cost calculator can help you estimate how much of your sales tax would be allocated to MAPS 4 if the project is approved. Enter in an estimated monthly amount spent on items subject to sales tax — things like groceries, clothes, home supplies, decorations or other tangible products — to see how much MAPS 4 could cost you over the next 8 years.

Monthly Expenditures: $

Monthly cost: $

Annual cost: $

8-year cost: $

Your percent of total cost: %

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