Potential ticket buyers can visit the center to get a feel for new premium areas. (Courtesy Phoenix Suns)

Talking Stick Resort Arena Transformation Center shows off improvements

Fans of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns can now get a safe sneak peek at what Talking Stick Resort Arena will look like after its $230 million overhaul. 

The Transformation Center, a preview center that opened at the arena last month, is available as a virtual tour or in person with the necessary socially distanced precautions in place.

“It really brings it all to life,” said Ralph Marchetta, the arena’s general manager.

The in-person tours are by appointment only, Marchetta said. The center follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and is heavily sanitized between tours. 

The buildout for the center was done by Okland Construction. The Suns’ in-house creative and marketing team led the design with an assist from arena renovations architect HOK. Suns salespeople are staffing the facility.

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Marchetta said. “When fans are able to actually see what the experience will look like, they get excited. As difficult as it is to look forward right now, we’re seeing a really good response and people are recognizing we are going to get to a point where we have fans in the building, we have a season and they want to be part of it.” 

On the programming and nonsports side, Marchetta said the demand is there as well.

“It’s definitely when and how, not if,” said Marchetta, who has extensive experience in booking and programming at the arena level, adding that holds are picking up for the second half of 2021. “Once we are able to welcome fans back into the building, I think the pent-up demand is going to be significant.”

The 19,000-capacity downtown arena is undergoing a $230 million overhaul called Project 201: PHX Reimagined that seeks to give fans a whole new arena experience.

“‘Renovation’ is really a misleading term for what we’re doing, and I think people are going to be really surprised when they come into the arena,” Marchetta said. “Renovation has a connotation like you’re just throwing up a fresh coat of paint, but basically every surface in the building is being retouched in some way — new seats, new technology, greater rigging grid capacity, and just really the experience. People coming into the building are going to be blown away by what they see.”

Improvements include expanded concourses, new spaces and experiences, improvements in Wi-Fi, lighting, audio and video resolution capabilities, new premium experiences, elevated food and beverage offerings and more, and Marchetta said the transformation will be obvious right away.

“That grand entry part is now really open into the arena bowl,” he said. “People are going to be surprised at the extent of what we’re doing. It’s going to be a pretty spectacular first impression.” 

With HOK as architect, along with the fully reimagined main pavilion, 17,000 new seats and ample club and suite space, still more upgrades include the new center-hung video screen, which is about six times bigger than the previous board; 450 video screens added throughout the arena; a new sound system; and a partnership with Verizon that will make it the most extensively equipped 5G arena in the U.S. 

With the NBA season interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, and the remainder of the season taking place in the “NBA Bubble” in Orlando this summer, Marchetta said the arena has been able to expedite construction.

 “We were able to initiate construction about a month earlier than we had planned, and we’ll be able to also extend about two months beyond when we thought we needed to finish,” he said.  “The initial plan was to shut down over two summers, and based on where we are now, we’re hopeful we won’t have to do that.” The first phase is scheduled to finish in time for the 2020-21 season, which the league hopes to start in December.