After years of clamoring for a new venue in Charlotte, owners George Shinn and Ray
Woolridge finally burnt every bridge left standing in North Carolina, and moved their team
to open and waiting arms in New Orleans. After a 23 year absence, the NBA was back in New
New Orleans Arena opened in 1999, and is a poster child for the motto "if you build it he will
come". With the construction of a state of the art arena built to major league specifications,
New Orleans was counting on the eventual arrival of a major league tenant to their new
facility. That gamble was rewarded when the ownership team of Shinn and Woolridge bolted
from Charlotte and relocated their team to New Orleans effective with the 2002-03 season.
Getting to the venue
New Orleans Arena is located in the northwest corner of downtown New Orleans, and is
immediately adjacent to the Louisiana Superdome. Located on Girot Street, access to the
venue is via the grid of downtown streets, or directly off of I-10 by simply taking the
Superdome exits. There is public transportation throughout the downtown area, and the
venue is a brisk walk from most downtown hotels as well as the French Quarter. Parking
runs $10 in the Superdome garage, and you can find surface lots on the north and west
sides of the building as well.
Outside the venue
The arena itself is an octagon shaped building, reminiscent of America West Arena, and the
south side along Girot Street serves as the building's main entrance. There is a second
entrance on the west side of the building. Both entrances are built with massive glass
facades which soar to the top of the building. At night the gray facades of the arena are
brightly floodlit, but the exterior of the building is devoid of any marquee or identification
signage, and this lends to sort of a bland appearance.
Girot Street is closed off to traffic on game days, and this area is roped off as a party zone
full of pregame activities and entertainment. A stage is set up with jazz and blues players,
there are hoops contests and even a tug of war pit. Refreshment and beer stands offer
pregame fare, and on this night there was even a rodeo display complete with live bulls
(perhaps because the Chicago Bulls were in town?). Given the warm winter weather here,
such an outdoor set up works nicely.
You enter the arena on the ground floor, walk through a small lobby and from there a long
escalator takes you high up to the main level of the building. The concourses are colored
pale gray, off white and pale turquoise, with terrazzo tile flooring and recessed lights in the
ceiling. Concession canopies pick up the color scheme, and again, the decor looks very
bland and austere, although bright and new. There are three concourse levels here - the
upper and lower concourses for the general public, and below the main level is a club
concourse and lounge. More on that later. A suite level overlooks the main concourse from
a balcony and is accessible via its own escalator.
The seating bowl
Seating is divided into lower and upper levels, divided by a separate suite level. The seats
here are checker colored in dark blue, light blue and gray. An older styled four sided
scoreboard hangs in the center with video boards and backlit ad panels. Along the upper
balcony are stationary ad panels and one color dot matrix boards offering in game stats and
out of town scores.
What makes the seating bowl is the 360 degree digital LED board which wraps around the
entire circumference of the suite level balcony. The Hornets utilize this display to the max,
offering a constant barrage of cool special effects, scrolling ads and bouncing logos
throughout the game. These guys use their board more creatively than anywhere else we
Voo Doo Barbecue offers the best dishes with a local flair, and of course, being New
Orleans both concourses are replete with frozen daiquiri stands. We also spotted a couple
items on the menu which we could not spell or pronounce, and being too timid to try we
passed. There is no team store in the arena, but small satellite merchandise carts scattered
throught the corridors. As we walked around the outside, there were two spaces in the
building at ground level that were under construction. One looks like a restaurant with
outdoor patio and the other looks like the future site of a team merchandise store.
In addition to a separate suite level and concourse, the 100 level seats between the
baselines are designated as club seating. Tickets here run from $86-$136, and provide
access to a separate club concourse, which is located below the 100 level main concourse.
This exclusive area basically consists of north and south club lounges with bar service, a
couple concession stands and table seating. The two lounges are connected via a narrow
and austere corridor. Really nothing special to write home about here.
In a classy move, the Hornets brought their retired number of #13, Bobby Phills, over from
Charlotte. Added to the rafters in a moving ceremony on opening night was that of the late
"Pistol" Pete Maravich, the greatest player to ever play basketball in New Orleans as a
member of the New Orleans Jazz.
Slam dunks, assists, fouls...
Slam Dunk - to the best feature of the building, those super 360 degree digital LED boards
in the seating bowl, well presented and a show to enjoy!
Assist - the USRT karma works again, as the home town Hornets run away with the game and
defeat the Chicago Bulls, 105-87.
Slam Dunk - A mention here on one of the finest attractions in downtown New Orleans - the
D- Day Museum. The movies, displays and exhibits are certain to stir the emotions of
Slam Dunk - to the many local fans on the "hornetsreport.com" message board who
provided us with lots of ideas and help in preparation for our visit here.
Foul - the heavy handed ushers and guest services people who need a few lessons in
customer courtesy. When we entered the building we were politely told at the security
check not to use flash photos while the game was in progress. (OK noted). As we toured
the building and snapped photos, a guest services person stopped us and berated us for
taking flash pictures in the corridor. Perhaps Jamal Mashburn will come barreling down the
corridor dribbling the ball any moment now???
Assist - Here is something new... at New Orleans Arena they don't just do the National
Anthem before the game, but also an INVOCATION, delivered by a member of the New
Orleans clergy. At the inaugural game the Mayor of the city gave the invocation, where he
asked God to bring a win over the visiting Utah Jazz and an NBA championship to the city of
New Orleans. God must be listening.... as of this writing the Hornets are a perfect 8-0 at
Foul- to ourselves, we had a hotel reservation at the Wyndham Hotel in downtown New
Orleans, and as we checked in we discovered that we were at the wrong hotel. Our
Wyndham was two blocks away and we had to repack all our gear, pay for parking and move
on. OOPS! Another USRT first.....
Assist - As in most arenas, there is an out of town scoreboard showing scores from around
the league. Here in New Orleans, they add a new twist... they also display scores from the
NBDL (National Basketball Developmental League). You can just imagine all the eyes
focused on that board as the Greenville vs North Charleston final popped up.
If one had to describe New Orleans Arena in just one word, it would have to be "ordinary".
Bland, washed out colors (or really, lack of color) both inside and outside. Not much in the
way of amenities, and premium level lounges that are left way behind in the dust compared
to their peer venues. What makes this even more disappointing here is that this is NEW
ORLEANS, where flash, color, pizzazz and flamboyance are the norm and part of the culture.
On the positive side, the Big Easy is not known to be the greatest of sports cities, yet the
local fans have really taken a shining to their Hornets, and those in attendance were very
loud and enthusiastic. Further upgrades, splashes of colors and better decor will raise the
score, but for now, we rate this venue somewhere in the lower end of the middle.
Food and team store 6
Scoreboard and electronics 7
Fan support 6
Location and neighborhood 7.5
Banners and history 5
In game entertainment 6
Concourses/fan comfort 7
Bonus: Invocation 2, The energy of New Orleans 2