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Volume 21 No. 47

Facilities

Atlanta Hawks COO Thad Sheely navigated his way through construction and concessions workers as they did last-minute work hanging signs, securing fixtures, stocking bars and revving up pizza ovens before State Farm Arena opened for its first NBA game on Oct. 24 after a $192.5 million makeover.

But the sprint to the finish for the renovation actually started in April after the Hawks’ season ended and the arena shut down for a second consecutive summer. “We were spending $1 million a day,” Sheely said. “There were 800 construction workers here every day. It was one of those just monumental undertakings.”

State Farm Arena debuted with a wider 360-degree main lower concourse, new food and beverage areas, more standing room areas for fans, and a more diverse inventory of premium space.

Sheely said a major structural and cultural shift propelled the renovation.

State Farm Arena slide show

“The real sort of key move to unlock the potential of this building came with knocking down the suite wall,” Sheely said. “That meant the main concourse stopped and if you were from anywhere else in the building you had to turn around.” 

The building opened as Philips Arena in 1999 with an unconventional layout of having all of its suites and premium seating on one side. The four-level premium wall restricted the concourse and had other drawbacks.

“Artists hated it because they looked up and saw these suites and acoustically it was not great,” Sheely said. “For fans, if you are sitting on this side of the building and looking across, those are all the haves, super premium folks, and if you are not it’s just weird.”

By the numbers


Renovation cost: $192.5M

Seating capacity: 16,600

Club seats: 1,500

Suites: 40

The west-side demolition of the suite wall (which happened in the summer of 2017 at the start of the renovation) required architecture firm HOK and contractors to design and build a 175-foot-long steel truss to support the new main concourse and seating sections. 

Ryan Gedney, vice president and senior design principal with HOK, said the demise of the suite wall set the overall tone for the project. “The venue became very open and democratic,” Gedney said. “The wall of suites was very haves and have not. It was really impactful just to see the suite level being torn down.” 

Restrooms were relocated and rebuilt along the outer concourse. Team offices and storage rooms were moved to create larger and wider spaces for fans to circumvent the building. “We added 100,000 square feet of fan-facing space. We made this building bigger without expanding the square footage,” Sheely said. 

The makeover reduced the number of suites at State Farm Arena from 99 to 40. But the arena now offers a greater variety of premium spaces and options. The team declined to give pricing for most of its premium areas.

State Farm Arena

 

Arena owner

City of Atlanta, Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority

Tenants

Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Dream

Operator

Atlanta Hawks

Architect 

HOK

Contractors

Turner Construction, AECOM Hunt, SG Contracting, Bryson Constructors

Structural engineer

Thornton Tomasetti

Project manager

Legends, H.J. Russell

Concessionaire

Levy

Pouring rights

Coca-Cola

Scoreboard

Prismview / Samsung Electronics

Lighting

Lux

Theatrical lighting

Musco

Ticketing

Ticketmaster 

Naming rights

State Farm

Other major sponsors

Kia Motors, Verizon, Budweiser, Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola/Sprite

Branded spaces

Zac Brown’s Social Club, Killer Mike’s SWAG Shop, Topgolf Swing Suite, Giovanni Di Palma’s Little Italia

Atlanta Social is a new 18,000-square-foot premium space with tables, couches, cabanas and lounge seating along with all-inclusive food, beer and wine. It was created on the second level by building walkways between the arena bowl and an area that was previously the Philips Experience fan interaction area.

The Hawks have sold out a number of their all-inclusive premium products including the Courtside Club, Veranda Suites on the second level, and cabanas and tables in the Atlanta Social area. Other offerings in Atlanta Social are still available, as well as a new Chef’s Club supper club area. 

The Courtside Club, which actually made its debut last year, is an attention getter with its bold, court-level location. It features all-inclusive food and drinks (including alcohol) and access to the behind-the-basket Hawk Bar, which is designed in the shape of the Hawks logo.

A non-inclusive but less expensive Players Club — which has bar counters made from old Hawks courts — has also sold out. Fans get access to a 9,800-square-foot area that gives them a view of postgame press conferences and players entering the court from the locker rooms. The area used to be a locker room for the old NHL Thrashers. Seats for the club are $160 per person per game.

Branded areas include a Topgolf Swing Suite where guests can practice their golf swing in front a video display. One food area is branded for country music group the Zac Brown Band while another is branded for Atlanta restaurateur Giovanni Di Palma. Killer Mike’s Swag Shop, a partnership with the Atlanta rapper, features a barber shop with four chairs where fans can watch the game and get a haircut.

The Hawks are still renovating 288 seats for an area called the Legends Club that sits behind the basket in the lower bowl, opposite the Courtside Club. It will debut later this season and feature loge boxes and tables seating between four and eight people with all-inclusive food, beer and wine.

To pump up the entertainment level in the seating bowl, the Hawks went big and bold with a 4,447-square-foot,  center video board from Samsung-owned Prismview. Gedney said HOK had talked to the Hawks about not having a center-hung scoreboard and instead focusing display boards in the corners. But Hawks President Steve Koonin said a center board is essential and expected by basketball fans.

“We know that every building in college, pro and even at some high schools there is going to be a center-hung scoreboard that is going to be your go-to,” Koonin said.

Don Szczepaniak, president and CEO of Prismview, said the board at State Farm Arena is among the three largest in the NBA. The arena’s old board was 960 square feet and Prismview reused parts of it in the corners of the arena, leading to 10 times more video displays overall.

Koonin said the aim is to make the arena the most video-centric in the NBA. “When you see it all together, this is a 21st century building.” 

Chef Joe Schafer is seeking the perfect recipe as he leads concessionaire Levy’s efforts at State Farm Arena, taking a new low-price menu designed to increase sales volume and weighing it against his own restaurant-quality expectations.

“We are concerned with speed of service, order fulfillment, engineering stands. We’re cooking in the moment but getting it to them quickly,” said Schafer, who joined Levy at the arena last year after being an executive chef at Bacchanalia, a Forbes Travel Guide four-star restaurant in Atlanta.

Self-service soda stations are an addition to State Farm Arena’s extensive menu revamp.
Photo: michael zarrilli

State Farm Arena is following in the footsteps of its next-door neighbor, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in offering lower-priced concessions such as $5 beers, $4 pizza slices and refillable sodas, $3 hot dogs and $2 bottles of water. It’s the first NBA arena to follow the value pricing path that’s garnering attention across sports. “It’s a complete 180 from what we used to have,” Schafer said.

The lower pricing got off to a strong start at the Oct. 24 opening night Hawks game, with Levy reporting a 78 percent jump in total food items sold compared to opening night last season.

Schafer expects to sell twice as many pizzas a night compared to last year thanks to the value pricing. “We’ve got to make 3,000 pizzas to get ready for a two-game week.” Schafer and his Levy team are making pizza dough on-site. He eventually wants to make tortillas on-site for tacos.

Levy has 71 percent more points-of-sale this year than before the rebuild. Self-service soda stations help move lines along by allowing food and beverage workers to focus on new orders and not refills. Levy has approximately 600 workers on game nights including 120 cooks and chefs, Schafer said.

Hawks COO Thad Sheely likes the focus of on-site food prep throughout the arena, including premium areas. “It’s truism that the farther food has to travel the worse it tastes,” he said.

Levy plans to bring in a rotating slate of local chefs for premium areas. And Schafer offers them this advice given the volume: Keep it simple.

“You don’t need to dumb down anything, but simplify your menus,” he said.

Flippy cooked more than 17,000 total pounds of chicken and tater tots after making its debut at Chavez Ravine in late July.
Photo: Courtesy of Miso Robotics

During the World Series, demand at some Dodger Stadium concession stands soared as much as 70 percent compared to a regular-season game. But for Flippy, Levy Restaurants’ new kitchen assistant robot, that spike in fan traffic carried no emotion, no stress and no deviation from what it has been doing since late July.

The Dodgers’ home World Series games represented a peak demand test and the end of the pilot season for Flippy, the robot Levy developed with California technology startup Miso Robotics. Used to simultaneously run four deep fryers at a fried chicken and tater tots stand, Levy Restaurants and Miso found that Flippy resulted in higher productivity and a marked reduction in food waste compared to human workers.

The efficiency savings were such that Levy Restaurants’ E15 analytics subsidiary estimates that each Flippy can now pay for itself in roughly a year in higher throughput and reduced waste, though the base installation costs have not been disclosed.

The robotic arm uses a combination of cameras, thermal scanners and artificial intelligence to perform kitchen tasks, measure precise food temperatures and supplement work done by human staffers. After several initial tweaks, Flippy is now capable of cooking more than 80 baskets of fried food per hour, and over the course of three months at Dodger Stadium it cooked more than 17,000 total pounds of chicken and tater tots. And at Chavez Ravine, Flippy was adorned in the Dodgers’ iconic blue and white, even as it was not readily visible to the public.

“The big takeaway for us after using this for a half season is that it worked, which is really no small thing,” said Jaime Faulkner, E15 chief executive. Faulkner and Miso Robotics led tours of Flippy for many visiting sports executives during the World Series games at Dodger Stadium. “There were a lot of questions about Flippy going into this, both internally and externally. But the gains we saw in volume and efficiency validated a lot of our expectations, and we still believe we’re on to something revolutionary.”

Levy and the Dodgers are now beginning talks toward possible additional Flippy installations at other Dodger Stadium concession stands, and the technology will be rolled out at other Los Angeles sports venues, including Staples Center. In each instance, though, Levy is seeking to work with local unions to ensure that human workers affected by Flippy are shifted to front-of-house roles and that there is no reduction in workforce.

“Technology for technology’s sake doesn’t work,” Faulkner said. “This is still fundamentally about serving the fan better.”