NEW ORLEANS — It was 1993 when city and state leaders gathered in a Superdome meeting room to discuss something new: an arena built with the goal of attracting professional hockey or basketball -- if not both -- to New Orleans.
Six years later, on Oct. 26, 1999, they cut the ribbon on the New Orleans Arena. And now, 20 years after they, they are looking back on how the facility not only changed the New Orleans skyline but aspects of the city’s culture.
WWL-TV has a brand new app: Download it free here: /appredirect/
“It seems like just yesterday,” said former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, who was the first person to pitch the idea of an arena designed with an NBA team in mind.
Part of the idea stemmed from the fact that the city was dealing with a sluggish economy in the early ’90s.
“Economic development spurs economic development,” Barthelemy said, noting that development around the Superdome and arena happening now was probably a long term result of the increased activity in that part of the city.
When the Saints are not playing, there’s a good chance the Pelicans are. And when neither team is playing, the arena -- now the Smoothie King Center -- and Mercedes-Benz Superdome regularly host concerts or trade shows, respectively.
Lawmakers in Baton Rouge worked to write up legislation that would seen more than $200 million in hotel-motel tax dollars go toward more than eight projects in the metro area, including Zephyr Field and the Saints practice facility.
The arena’s initial price tag was $84 million but eventually rose to $110 million.
State Sen. John Alario ,R-Westwego, said the bill was not particularly hard to pass since so many areas saw investment.
“It was a fair distribution, we think, within the region, so everybody was happy in the end,” he said.
The location next to the Superdome was not accidental.
The land was already publicly-owned, and both facilities were able to share things such as parking and utilities, which helped to keep construction costs down.
The New Orleans Brass, the city’s short-lived minor-league hockey team, were the first tenants. But the ultimate goal was an NBA team.
That happened in 2002 when the Charlotte Hornets relocated to the city.
The arena has been busy ever since.
“Without the arena, we wouldn't be the city we are today,” said Doug Thornton, executive vice president of stadiums and arenas for SMG, the company that operates the Dome and arena. “Certainly we would have never had a chance to get an NBA basketball team.”
4 THINGS TO KNOW NEWSLETTER