N.O. Arena’s Grand Reopening

The New Orleans Arena reopened March 4th with a sold-out performance by renowned tenor Placido Domingo, followed a few days later by an SRO crowd of almost 18,000 for the return of professional basketball as the hometown Hornets hosted the Los Angeles Lakers.

On March 13th, the Rev. Billy Graham gave what he hinted would likely be the last sermon of his long career to another packed house – with some 1,500 more watching on exterior screens. The two-day “Celebration of Hope,” which also included son Franklin Graham, brought nearly 30,000 to the venue, which was closed down six months earlier by Hurricane Katrina.

The New Orleans Arena is back, and SMG venue managers want to spread the word that it is back in a big way.

“This tells the nation the lights are on, the doors are open, and we’re ready for business. The work is done, and the building is fully prepared for all types of shows,” venue GM Glenn Menard said.

The arena is already booking and negotiating a diverse mix of entertainment and functions, from concerts to college graduations, according to a statement.

“We’ve got to convince the personal manager, the [agent], to be the one to stick their toes in the water; we’re sure that they’ll be happy,” Menard told Pollstar. “We’re talking to the folks that do some family shows and we’re hoping to have one of those. We’re going to have a boxing match; we just hooked up with ESPN and Harrah’s to do a fight April 5th,” he added.

Because of existing sponsorships, advertising deals and contracts in Oklahoma City, where the Hornets are temporarily based, the team won’t return permanently to the Crescent City until the 2007-08 season. But the team, arena and NBA have committed to playing two more games in New Orleans this month and six next season.

And, in a show of commitment, the league has granted the New Orleans Arena exclusive rights to negotiate for the NBA All-Star Game in February 2008.

“We felt like that was a good inducement as part of letting the team stay in Oklahoma City until ’07, as well as shows a commitment that the NBA and the Hornets are coming back for the 2007-08 season,” Menard said.

“The difference (for concerts) is we think we’re in good shape to begin booking concerts right away. The Hornets coming back means the city would have to support 41 nights, plus playoffs, plus preseason,” he added.

After Katrina struck August 29th, the New Orleans Arena assisted with special needs residents brought over from the neighboring Superdome. While the building sustained no major structural damage, a lot of work was needed to restore it as a first-class facility.

Repairs cost less than $10 million, with $6.65 million in hard costs ($2 million for dewatering, biohazard remediation and removal of damaged furnishings and equipment, $3.16 million for repair of the structure, and $1.5 million for replacement of furniture, fixtures and equipment), according to venue officials.

The expenses will be fully covered by FEMA, insurance, and a restructuring of the Superdome bonds.

Installation of a new $1.5 million center-hung scoreboard and two end zone matrix boards was completed March 1st. Features include four 9- by 14-foot video displays, four 8- by 12-foot video boards and two 360-degree LED rings. The system is part of the “NBA upgrades” in the original agreement with the New Orleans Hornets when they moved to the city in 2002.

The facility showed it can handle a demanding concert crowd with “A Night For New Orleans” March 4th, featuring Domingo, Denyce Graves, Paul Groves, Nathan Gunn and the Louisiana Philharmonic Symphony Opera, and the New Orleans Opera Chorus.

The concert gala was geared to a more affluent audience and grossed close to $800,000, Menard said. It also proved that despite national media reports, there is still a sizeable market in the greater New Orleans area that is able and willing to spend money on concert tickets.

“Among certain segments of the population, we’re talking about substantial numbers – 80 percent to 85 percent of the ticket-buying public – that are still here,” Menard explained. “They may not be in the homes they were in last summer. But a lot of them are within a 15-mile radius.

“So for a concert, we’re sure, based on our experience with Placido and the Hornets, that our market is still strong for certain kinds of music. Certainly for country, and rock ‘n’ roll, most of our people are still here. Most of our radio stations are still up. And the people have money.”

– Deborah Speer