From Gantries & Tension Grid To Rock & Roll! San Francisco’s Chase Center Readies For Action

San Francisco’s first new arena in decades is set to open in September 2019 in time for the Warriors’ season.

San Francisco, Northern California’s crown jewel of culture, entertainment and finance, is hardly convenient, with bridges connecting major metros, hopelessly slow traffic on narrow one-way streets, tolls and the already notoriously expensive California way of life ratcheted up a few notches. 
Its hilly terrain and limited land mass also make it as the second-most densely populated major city in the United States. It’s a major draw for both tourists and residents, with its history of bustling commerce dating back to the Gold Rush, California weather (albeit slightly chilly) and its decades-strong establishment as the technological center of the world just north of Silicon Valley.  
San Francisco hasn’t opened a major arena since the Cow Palace in 1941, and even that was in Daly City directly to the south. The regular concert arenas in the vicinity include the always-active SAP Center in San Jose about an hour to the South, and the venerable Oracle Arena in Oakland across the Bay Bridge, which opened in 1966 and remains the oldest NBA arena in use as home of the mighty Golden State Warriors, which have won three NBA championships in the last four seasons.  Construction in San Francisco is expensive and time consuming, despite the constant cranes and jackhammers seemingly perpetually toiling away in the city, often leaving sports franchises to seek other nearby municipalities.  For instance, the new Levi’s Stadium for the San Francisco 49ers NFL team ended up in Santa Clara, a San Jose suburb and an easy hour drive away even before counting for traffic. 
There’s a new game in town with the Chase Center, as Warriors ownership has committed a full $1 billion-plus (completely privately financed) to the project and has the enviable position of owning the land, team and arena, allowing it to lease 100,000 square feet of valuable restaurant and retail space surrounding the arena site.  
Chase Center
– Chase Center
outdoor plaza rendering.
The district will also house 580,000 square feet of office space, with two buildings going to main tenant Uber. It’s the first time in the modern era for an arena or stadium to be built with private funds on privately owned land, which was purchased from Salesforce, the San Francisco-based business software company that outgrew the space it was considering for its corporate campus headquarters.  
For Chase Center and the surrounding district, Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber have pulled out all the stops, with a commitment to the experience of not only the guests and the team, but touring productions as well, with ample loading docks, a tension grid where the shows are rigged creating a “Disneyland” of sorts for the crew and a possibly world-first gantry system that closes beneath the already-retracted scoreboard and allows shows to rig directly into it.  
“Chase Center will not only hold Warriors basketball games, but it will also have nearly 200 events a year including concerts, family shows and more,” said Eric Bresler, executive director at Chase Center. 
 “We haven’t announced specifics yet, but we’re looking forward to having a tremendous line-up of entertainment to open the building. We also are planning to have activations throughout the arena and the surrounding district all year long, including potential events such as ice skating in the plaza, yoga on the plaza, farmers markets, movie nights and more.” 

Eric Bresler
– Eric Bresler
Chase Center Executive Director
That’s not even to mention Chase Center’s theatre configuration, which, with a separate entrance and 5,000 seats making use of the arena’s existing VIP amenities, will look like a whole separate venue to patrons who may not even be aware they’re inside the arena.
Halfway through construction – led by the Mortenson-Clark joint venture building the arena and surrounding district – and with a target opening date of September 2019 in time for NBA season, Warriors execs including Chase Center Chief Operating Officer Stephen Collins, executive director and concert industry veteran Eric Bresler, Kish Rigging founder and majority owner Ed Kish, and Theatre Projects project manager Michael Ferguson and theatre equipment designer Michael Nishball gave Pollstar a private run-down of the world-class arena’s technical capacities, fan and artist amenities and a glimpse into its unique theatre setup that will open in year two of operation.

Chase Center’s arena bowl is designed to keep the volume and intensity of longtime Oakland home Oracle Arena.

The Chase Center Experience

“One of the things we’re most proud of from a venue standpoint is we’re trying to keep the intimacy of Oracle Arena, where we’ve always enjoyed the fan interaction,” says Bresler during a walkthrough of the building’s features and suites. 
“Many times a team will move to a brand new building and you lose the vibe and feel you’ve had.” However, having seats close to the floor will “allow us to capture all the intimacy and noise we had at Oracle.” 
Bresler would know, having previously spent eight years as vice president of event booking and development for AEG Facilities and who previously oversaw the opening of buildings including the Tampa Bay Lightning’s home ice, now known as Amalie Arena. 
But it’s not all noise, with Chase Center’s main entryway providing a welcoming environment for fans, who are security screened outside and then greeted by customer service experts. 
“The days of the bullet-proof window and talking through a headset are done,” Bresler added, pointing to renderings of a spiraling staircase and front desks that resemble upscale hotels rather than the concrete jungles of the typical sports facility. “This is the intimate experience of talking to an actual human being right in front of you. That’s the biggest change when you walk in. Being able to talk to someone is much more enjoyable and we feel continues the trend of the overall added experience.”
Amenities include impressive suites, with one ring featuring 44 boxes as well as 32 court-side lounges. There are also 60 smaller theatre boxes, basically four-person suites that give fans the experience close to the action. With the Warriors’ recent success and impressive new Chase Center, season ticket holders from Oracle Arena have largely re-upped their season tickets, with 80 percent doing so about halfway into the process. Chase Center reps say the carryover when a team moves to a new stadium or arena is usually much closer to 60 percent. 
In order to help pay for arena construction, Warriors memberships are being sold as sort of a 30-year loan during which the membership can be transferred or sold back, with the seat holders’ portion of the payment still returning after the 30-year term. 
The Warriors are offering season tickets to fans with the longest tenure with the team rather than the most expensive package, giving long-term die-hards the first chance to snag tickets at the new home of basketball’s newest dynasty. Chase Center execs noted that half of the season ticket memberships (not including the price of tickets) are $15,000 per year or less.   

Stephen Collins
– Stephen Collins
Chase Center Chief Operating Officer
While San Francisco is not known as the easiest city to get around in by car, Chase Center has developed an app that will show individual season ticket holders the best route and amount of time it will take to reach the arena on any given day. 
There are 1,000 parking garage spaces reserved for premium season ticketholders, and roughly 6,000 parking spaces within a half-mile of the arena, which is located on Third St. and 16th Street, offering a clear view of the San Francisco Bay and next to San Francisco Giants’ AT&T Park.
“Our goal certainly is for public transportation to be utilized but it still has to be recognized and options are needed for those who want to drive to Chase Center,” Bresler said, adding there are Muni Metro, BART, and Caltrain options in walking distance.
However, upon arrival at Chase Center, options will be plenty, with 29 retail establishments on board and an outdoor plaza that will host events including outdoor concerts, ice rink events and much more. 
First Class Amenities
The heightened Chase Center experience carries over to not just the fan but the Warriors players and staff, visiting team, and all touring production personnel including the artists themselves. Some often forgotten but important touches include dedicated tour kitchen, weight rooms and hot and cold-water therapy pools dedicated to just the talent campus, just like the home team. 
Other amenities include visiting locker rooms and dressing rooms with the finer finishing touches rather than fluorescent lights, cement floors and a wall of lockers.
Chase Center chief operating officer Stephen Collins, in his fourth season with the Warriors, notes that without suitable artist and visiting team amenities, productions “have to bring in a truckload of stuff to turn what looks like a high school locker room into something suitable for Mick Jagger. Mick can still bring in whatever he wants, but you’re starting off from a much better place this way. And you know what, if you’re a show that can’t afford to bring all that stuff in, that’s less money out of your pocket to try to figure it out all on your own,” added Collins, who as previous EVP of Facilities for the Madison Square Garden Company manage Madison Square Garden Arena’s recent $1 billion renovation.
Collins says the concept is such that, say, Warriors star point guard and multiple-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry wants to hit the weight room the same day Adele’s tour arrives; neither will even be aware of the other. And while the clear priority is basketball, with 40 or so Warriors home games as well as a handful of college events and exhibitions, there are year-round events of all stripes. 
“We spent a lot of time thinking OK, we will do college doubleheaders, will do the NCAA regional, and do have to make it a great experience for them, but let’s not put in infrastructure that doesn’t also speak to the tour,” Collins said. “Whether that’s lighting finishes, AV distribution, broadcast, power, all of that stuff we’ve kind of went through in all these rooms with a fine-toothed comb. This is going to be used for the college basketball team but also for the band, too. 
“Let’s not just throw in what everyone else does – put in some fluorescent lights and lockers and call it a day. I give [Warriors owners] Joe and Peter a tremendous amount of credit for allowing us to walk through every different event and what would make it work best and the way the team can work around that.” 

Chase Center
– Chase Center
Arena by The Bay: Roughly halfway through construction
Collins initially refers to these ideas as “small touches” but, laughing, quickly corrects himself noting they were far from small on the bottom line. 
Regardless, Bresler, who oversees programming and content for the building, says these types of additions make a huge impact.
“To Steve’s credit, early on we had a lot of conversations and there was a desire to lend a different experience for the visiting team coming in, because the feeling was that if the visiting team had a good experience at Chase Center, that hopefully that would extend to the Warriors. The conversation would extend where if we do that, that could really lend an amenity to Chase Center that isn’t available at many venues today. We’re enormously proud of that.”
Less Tension From Above
While it’s expected that a new arena provide the highest of experience to fans, players and facility staff, Chase Center’s back of house and load-in docks and are a veritable playground for those producing the event.
One key feature is the tension grid where the shows are hung. 
“Think of it as a chain-link fence turned horizontally,” Collins said. “That’s an oversimplification, the tension grid is a little sexier than that, but essentially you create a work platform where you can step off the catwalk and instead of having to tie yourself into a lifeline and shimmy out on the beam, essentially you have one huge work platform. 
“You can see through it to the floor, you can rig through it to the steel and the riggers can walk around on it without having to be clipped in, and there’s the safety element of not hanging out on the steel girders.” Collins added, “Everyone should experience walking on tension grid. Imagine stepping out into the air at 100 feet, it’s really fun, and it’s a little bouncy. It’s fun to watch people step on it for the first time. It’s woven-wire mesh, so you can’t fall through, but 100 percent, you think you’re standing on air.”
The Warriors enlisted Ed Kish, founder and majority owner of Kish Rigging, to work out a lot of the details.
“If rigging is your trade, it takes you maybe half an hour to realize that you’re in the Disneyland of access,” Kish said of what it will be like to hang a show at Chase Center. “I’m not on this beam and need to go on this beam. Instead of going 50 feet that way and go over the handrail and coming back down the next line, you just walk over there. It’s about speed and convenience. Other buildings have addressed this problem with a solid floor, but then you can’t see what’s happening, can’t communicate, so tension grid is definitely a-plus-plus feature.
“The rigging grid is designed  like a tape measure,” Kish adds. “I’m walking around, I’m counting beams, I put a laser on the floor, I find a beam and instead of having to go all the way back to center, I can just count 4 beams over. And if I need 43 feet, I put three feet of tape on the ground and there I am. It’s kind of self-directing from that standpoint.”
All About The Gantries 
The scoreboard is another plus-plus feature of the building, Kish says, but it took some figuring out. The scoreboard retracts completely under the low steel, but that was going to leave a dead zone where from which nothing could be hung.  

Stephen Collins
– Stephen Collins
leading a briefing during construction of the $1 billion Chase Center in San Francisco.
Enter Theatre Projects, which designed the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood among many other marquee venues. 
“These gentleman, Michael Nishball and Michael Ferguson, came up with two movable gantries that when the scoreboard is up and stored, they track under, meet at the center and now we have this neat rigging provision under the scoreboard hole. We don’t have that hole anymore,” Kish said. 
“Otherwise it would have been like walking into the desert. It would have been very difficult to address that problem, and now it’ll be very easy to rig all over the building, which equates to speed. You want to get the show up, that’s what it’s all about. Speed is the name of the game.” 
The gantries completely cover the scoreboard opening, providing convenient and unparalleled rigging in the center of the building. Their creation was no small feat considering the scoreboard’s size, and the gantries themselves cost a pretty penny according to Collins, but Warriors top brass believed these types of investments will pay off.
“For the artists on stage, there could be 65 guys or even 100 people involved in the load-in who had to get that piece on stage,” said Theatre Projects’ Ferguson. “Removing all that friction isn’t just about saving money, but it does save money because it’s very labor intensive when you find out how long things took. You make decisions on building design issues based on how long things took to load in or move in or move out. 
“Somebody who rigs a show in this building, if they come back to the manager and say it was a great place to work, had great facilities, the people were great, and I had an elevator to the grid that saved me four hours instead of five guys motoring up all day – the fact that you made that thing easy to use, everybody comes out feeling very positive. 
“It’s absolutely critical,” Ferguson continues. “It’s almost an intangible but we kind of know that at the end of the day the pocketbook will show it as well. If you’re not spending time getting stuff to the grid, you’re spending time doing something else. You don’t just sit down for those four hours. The quality goes back into the show, and you have that much more time.”

The Theatre
The complex gantry and rigging system helps create a first-of-its kind theatre experience at Chase Center, with a dedicated, separate theatre entrance that keeps guests in an “envelope” rather than wandering the full arena concourse like any other sporting event or concert. To create the atmosphere of being in a completely separate venue, the setup is turned 90 degrees, playing the long side of the arena.  

Chase Center Theatre
– Chase Center Theatre
a rendering of Chase Center’s unique theatre configuration that will open in year two of operation.
 “In most cases, you have people facing the short end of the stage, where all the rigging capacity is, which makes perfect sense on paper, but we looked at rotating it 90 degrees for a couple reasons,” Ferguson said. “This way it actually allows you to take advantage of all the VIP structure. You’re usually putting the audience where the cheaper seats are. In this case you put the audience where the best seats are.”
The theatre stage is exactly where the hole from the score-board would be, too, giving the gantry system added importance. 
“When patrons come through in the lobby entry sequence, there’s no shuffling them around to the corner and telling them they’re VIP. They really are in all that VIP structure. The private lounges, the boxes all that great stuff,” Ferguson added.
While that made sense location wise, Theatre Projects was also pleased with the results from the floor. 
“The back row of the theatre configuration here at Chase is exactly the same position as the back row of the balcony at the Dolby Theatre,” Ferguson said. “What that said to us is we are creating the exact same sightline experience and audience experience. This is not going to feel like doing a show in the arena. It will be a branded experience that is that space alone.
“We’re absolutely creating what we think will be a be-spoke theatre,” Ferguson added. “The side walls and architecture will integrate with the rest of the building. I think there will be people 
who haven’t come to the arena before who will come in through the theatre entry sequence and think they’re in a different building.”
Collins, who oversaw operations at all MSG properties including the Chicago Theatre, Radio City Music Hall, and the Beacon Theatre, clearly is not exaggerating when he says every room of Chase Center has been thought through and approached with a fine-toothed comb. 
“This wasn’t an afterthought,” Collins says of the theatre design. “It’s not happenstance that the entry on the southeast corner happens to line up with the sequence that leads to the theatre. All of the theatre boxes were laid out, all the suites were laid out, the seating was laid out in such a way that If you came into that entrance, you don’t know you’re in the arena. 
“Joe and Peter, the owners, get a lot of credit,” Collins added. “This was kind of the vision from the beginning. They said, ‘If we walk in to the theatre and think we’re still in the arena, then it’s not worth doing.”
Chase Center is a charter member of Oak View Group’s Arena Alliance, and OVG is Pollstar’s parent company.