A rendering of the renovated Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, courtesy of the arena.
Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse will give fans plenty more than just a new name for the 26th year of the building. After a few months of a complete shutdown, the final phase of the $185 million renovation to the city’s largest arena has its grand opening slated for Sept. 28 with a completely reimagined exterior and space aplenty in the remade concourses.
Home of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers, AHL’s Cleveland Monsters and over 200 ticketed events annually, the publicly owned building operated by the Cavs underwent a phase one enhancement a year ago, mainly remaking and enhancing the premium spaces within the building. This year, though, came the heavy lifting required to complete phase two, focused on the main public areas.
The Cavs added 55,000 square feet to the building, now a total of 153,000 square feet; created a 42,500-square-foot glass atrium at the north entrance that includes 1,475 glass pieces, each weighing 990 pounds; designed eight new destination hospitality areas; added three feet to the ceiling height in the concourses; and expanded 6,000 square feet in the south main concourse.
“It is the bulk of the work that needed to happen,” said Antony Bonavita, executive vice president of venue operations for the Cavs. “Every concession stand, every restroom, every concourse has been upgraded. This has truly been the transformation people have been expecting and looking forward to.”
The changes will come striking from the first moment. While the remade entrance was based on creating a better ingress and egress experience for visitors, Bonavita said the Cavs also wanted to give the city a “postcard building” that gets people stopping and taking photos. “We’ve created this unbelievable exterior that can interact with the city and truly change the dynamic of the city,” he said. “It is something we are all going to be proud of for a very long time. It is one thing to renovate a building, but another to change a city.”
Along with the glass, the design includes a metal curtain behind that activates with lighting. “It is an unbelievable erector set of seamless glass and wire cables that hold it together. It is see-through, but very reflective and very reflective of the city,” Bonavita said.
Inside, the Cavs wanted to inject opportunities for fans to interact and engage with each other. Instead of tight concourses where visitors didn’t have a spot to sit and have a bite to eat — Bonavita said fans were lucky just to find a trash can to set food on if they wanted to not walk and eat — the upgrades created neighborhoods within the concourse, using 13 different chef partners to bring in local touches. The Cavs eliminated concessions stands to add places for fans to sit and removed three sections of seating on the upper level to create a destination for fans to go and find upgraded food offerings. The design also added a bar in the upper level that extends out into the new atrium with views to the city, which Bonavita calls an “unbelievable destination to hang out.”
“We spent a lot of time finding niche opportunities to create different environments,” he said.
The building enjoys an upgrade to the technology as well, adding in 1,000 square feet of LED panels, 239 wireless access point and five storytelling walls.
“From the minute a fan walks in they are going to notice new concourses, new colors, new wayfinding system,” Bonavita said. “We are putting extra staff on for the first 60 days just to make sure people aren’t too busy looking up and not being engaged with what’s happening. The fans who have been coming here for years are going to be completely turned around, it will feel like a completely new building.”
Getting to the Sept. 30 Black Keys concert, the first ticketed event in the renovated space, hasn’t been easy. “We could not have picked a worse corner of the city to dig into,” Bonavita said. “Every municipality steam vault, electrical line and AT&T line runs through the corner of that street. There have been significant challenges, but we have great partners with the city of Cleveland, and our general contractor Whiting-Turner, who have worked through everything that has come up. It was extremely challenging to renovate a building like this, and we are very fortunate we shut down. It was the right call.”
Bonavita said he knows other arenas try to remodel without fully closing, but for the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, one of the more active buildings in the country, and the challenges in extensively renovating an existing structure, they had no choice. “Shutting down was the right call because we needed every minute of every day to get through the challenges,” he said, “and challenges is an understatement.”
The Cavs praised the team they worked with on the project. The glass atrium was originally conjured up by SHoP Architects out of New York, but Gensler’s Washington, D.C., office serves as the executive architect on the project. Rossetti or Detroit controlled the premium space architecture. The Bigelow Companies handled food services consultancy, Infinite Scale the new signage and wayfinding, RPMI the local architect and Thornton Tomasetti the façade and structural engineering.
With the Cavs funding $115 million of the upgrades, the team added seven years to its lease, extending it now through 2034.
Bonavita said he couldn’t be prouder to be part of the project. “The people of Cleveland work hard, are dedicated, take it personal from the construction managers to the crew, this truly is a rust-belt city and a city not afraid to get dirty and build something great,” he said. Now, as Cleveland’s living room and where the city comes for entertainment, the remade Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse gives the city a dynamic perspective.