The new center-hung videoboard at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix will be six times bigger than the existing board. (Courtesy Phoenix Suns)

Event-level clubs, entry pavilion changes planned for Talking Stick Resort Arena

The Phoenix Suns are transforming Talking Stick Resort Arena with three new event-level clubs, including a much-needed courtside club; a reconfigured entry pavilion; and two corner bars integrated into the seating bowl off the main concourse.

In addition, the Suns are introducing bunker suites, a product common at other big league venues. In Phoenix, the ultra-premium spaces, typically underneath the stands with no views to the game, are situated on the arena’s south end. They’re being sold on 10-year terms at an annual cost of $750,000. Those patrons’ seats to watch the game are in the first few rows of the lower bowl. 

The Suns released details of the $230 million renovation Thursday evening at the Phoenix Convention Center. Jason Rowley, the team’s president and CEO, and Bill Johnson, a principal with project architect HOK, discussed the upgrades with VenuesNow before the event.

The renovation, dubbed Project 201: PHX Reimagined, covers a dramatic face-lift to an arena that opened in 1992 and which now stands as the third-oldest NBA facility behind Madison Square Garden and Target Center, both of which had complete makeovers during the past six years. The two-year project will be completed for the 2021-22 season. 

“It’s still one of the best seating bowls in the NBA to watch basketball,” Johnson said. “It was at the front of the building boom for the NBA, a small building that didn’t have requirements for club seats and VIP spaces, and loge seating had not been invented yet. Technology has changed exponentially. It’s really tight, which is good, but also a big challenge.”

The first phase of major construction, starting next summer, covers the new clubs, the entry pavilion and the seating bowl, in which all new cushioned seats will be installed. Currently, seating from the sixth row of the lower bowl to the top of the arena is original plastic chairs dating to when the arena opened 27 years ago, Rowley said.

The crown jewel among the new club spaces is 1968, a two-level lounge on the south end of the event level, named for the year the Suns started play in the NBA. The signature elements are a center bar and an elaborate lighting fixture hanging from the ceiling, Johnson said. 

The 7,500-square-foot club is the arena’s first true courtside club, reserved for the ticket holders sitting in the first two rows circling the court. Those patrons previously had access to a makeshift, pop-up club at event level that did not reflect the high price they pay for those seats.

A new two-level lounge will be named 1968 for the year the Suns started play in the NBA. (Courtesy Phoenix Suns)

“People enjoyed it and we made it very nice, but this is a completely different level than what they’re used to,” Rowley said. “Nothing like this exists in Phoenix to this date.”

The “VVIP” space takes over the Suns’ practice court, which goes away along with 40,000 square feet of mostly basketball operations space after the team opens its new $45 million practice facility next August in Phoenix.

“That project was the catalyst for us to create all of those new premium offerings on the event level,” Rowley said.

The two remaining event-level clubs, both measuring 10,000 square feet, will be situated along the east and west sides, exclusive to ticket holders in the third and fourth rows from the court and those sitting in the first six rows between the baselines.

“We’re cutting new vomitories into the event level, and those folks will walk directly from the floor into the new clubs,” Rowley said.

Johnson said those roughly 1,000 premium patrons remaining at event level to eat and drink in their respective lounges will help relieve congestion in the arena, one of the NBA’s smaller facilities.

The pavilion, branded for Casino Arizona and which serves as the main entrance, first opened in 2004 as part of a $70 million renovation. The large concrete wall that separates the front lobby from the seating bowl will be torn down to provide views to the game and the new center-hung videoboard, which is six times bigger than the existing board.

Staircases that are part of the pavilion will also be removed to provide fans with a greater connection to the game. Static advertising displays will be replaced with 8,500 square feet of LED screens that can be programmed depending on the event. 

The end result will be a more dynamic, transparent pavilion with the digital screens visible from nearby office towers, Johnson said.

A large sports bar will anchor the pavilion, which will go a long way toward changing the fan experience in the entryway, Rowley said.

“The pavilion will become kind of a living room in downtown Phoenix, and people will love it,” Johnson said. “It’s a little bit newer part of the building and in good shape. The problem was once you got in there, there wasn’t much to look at. That’s where we think the big move will be.”

The second phase, taking place over the summer of 2021, focuses on the two suite levels and the lower and upper concourses. 

On the suite levels, a mix of theater boxes, which are smaller groups of premium seats with a communal dining area, will replace some traditional suites. Other suites will have restrooms removed and replaced with movable back walls leading to group dining spaces.

The Suns first debuted theater boxes a decade ago. It’s proved to be a popular product and there will be 32 total after the new ones are built. 

The adjustments will reduce the total number of suites from 74 to 55, Rowley said. Much of the new and reconfigured premium inventory will be part of all-inclusive packages with the cost of food and drink folded in the cost of those seats. 

A club on Suite Level A on the north end will be themed as a country music bar with live performances by local bands. It will be accessible to all patrons. There will be some ticketed spaces in the form of loge seating and drink rails, Johnson said.

The bunker suites will be near the Suns locker room, and those patrons will be able to watch players going to and from the court. Space restrictions prevented officials from building additional bunkers, Rowley said.

“In talking to our existing customers, it sounds like we’re going to break some hearts,” he said. “There’s a limited supply.”

All told, the Suns’ strategy was to develop a greater variety of premium seat products as the trends in segmentation continue to evolve in sports, Rowley said. Team executives spent two days touring State Farm Arena, where the Atlanta Hawks went through a $193 million renovation. 

HOK also designed those upgrades, which was a key driver for the Suns selecting them for the project. (The original America West Arena was among Bill Johnson’s first big league projects at the old Ellerbe Becket).  

“They were in a similar position to us, had a building that needed a fair amount of updating, with a budget about the same as ours and a lot of new products to sell,” Rowley said.

The Suns are also aware of the competition for business in the local market with four big league teams and Arizona State University, where Sun Devil Stadium recently went through a $300 million renovation with multiple premium spaces. 

In addition, ISM Raceway recently underwent a $178 million refurb and the Waste Management Phoenix Open, which typically draws about 500,000 fans, ranks as the highest-attended PGA event. The Suns have paid close attention to the golf tournament’s marketing of a variety of ticketing packages for the Scottsdale event, Rowley said.

“It’s the idea of trying to have as many things as you can that make sense for as many people as possible,” he said. “We’re really proud of the fact that the way we’re programming the building, there’s going to be something for everybody. In the upper deck, we’ll have a new food court with local concepts, which will be family friendly and offer variety.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated since it was originally posted.

The changes will open the bowl to the entry pavilion. (Courtesy Phoenix Suns)