A rendering shows the remodeled Casino Arizona Pavilion with new video screens and bar. (Courtesy Phoenix Suns)

Work continues at Talking Stick Resort Arena on $250M project

The transformation of Talking Stick Resort Arena, the home of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, was slated to begin after a concert by the Eagles on April 26. When COVID-19 swept the world and shut down sports and entertainment, crews were able to start the overhaul early.

“With the unfortunate shutdown and postponement of the season and the rest of our events, we were able to start on the work sooner than we anticipated,” said Ralph Marchetta, the arena’s general manager. 

Ralph Marchetta

“We gained about three weeks. How that factors into the overall length of what we have planned on getting done this summer is going to depend on supply chain disruptions or labor disruptions going forward.”

Dubbed Project 201: PHX Reimagined, the transformation is the result of a partnership between the Suns and the city of Phoenix. Global design firm HOK and Okland Construction are on the renovation team. 

Construction is deemed an essential function in Arizona, and the team of 80 to 100 workers is following Okland’s enhanced safety protocols and social distancing practices that are in line with the recommendations from public safety and health experts, Marchetta said. 

Talking Stick Resort Arena opened in 1992 as America West Arena and underwent a $70 million upgrade in 2004. This price tag for the new renovation is $230 million. “It’s really updating just about every aspect of the facility,” Marchetta said. “Every seat in the building will be new. We’ll have additional club amenities, additional food and beverage points of sale.”

When finished, Talking Stick Resort Arena will have 11 club and suite experiences, including 55 suites, eight additional theater boxes, new VIP clubs and one exclusive club called 1968. Named in honor of the Suns’ birth year, 1968 will be a two-story club on the arena’s lower level, and members will enjoy courtside access and a private entrance from Jackson Street. Three new floor suites will be adjacent to the main court, where players can pass by as they run onto the court.

Numerous back-of-house improvements are intended to help the arena attract more shows and concerts. The rigging capacity will more than double from the original 100,000 pounds and will be accompanied by a widened grid to accommodate concerts with larger sets. Sound, light and video power requirements have increased significantly, Marchetta said.

“We’re going to have a greater rigging capacity to create an easier load-in situation,” he said. “We’re moving our food and beverage commissary off the event level to a separate commissary with separate loading docks. Logistically, it’ll be easier on the venue.”

Crews will renovate the dressing room area so the production office, dressing room and management office will be centrally located. 

“That’s a positive when it comes to a touring show,” Marchetta said. “We’ve been able to create more space that shows will have access to.”

The work on the commissary and new kitchen — which will be housed in a new building attached to the southeast corner of the arena — began in January. 

Marchetta expects most of the work will be completed in October. Fans will see the changes when they step into the Casino Arizona Pavilion, the lobby area outside the seating bowl.

A 60-foot bar will sell drinks, and 8,500 square feet of LED screens will encompass most of the pavilion’s interior.

“That’s really going to blow people away,” Marchetta said. “We are going to have massive LED screens on both sides (of the lobby), and the pavilion will open into the seating bowl.”

The experience will be enhanced by a lobby stage, where bands or DJs will entertain.

“I think people are going to be really, really pleased when they see how that pavilion area transformed,” he said. 

In the seating bowl, two corner bars will be added to the stage end. 

“We’re focusing on bringing in a lot of local partners,” said Marchetta about efforts with concessionaire Levy. “We’re trying to get that local flavor in terms of food and beverage offerings. We spent a lot of time on the food and beverage component. We recognized what an important part that is.

Michael Dei Maggi has been hired to oversee the food and beverage program.

Though most of the renovations are expected to be done for the Suns’ season, “We’ll continue to do work during the season and we’ll potentially be shut down for a portion of next summer. That’s TBD,” Marchetta said. “It depends on how much we get done.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been revised since it was originally posted.