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Oklahoma City set for new arena

Oklahoma City Council has approved the final plans for a new arena which is set to replace an existing venue at the OKC Fairgrounds.

The $102m (£84.5m/€100.4m) project, set to be majority funded from tax revenues, was given the green light at a meeting yesterday (Tuesday) after what Mayor David Holt described as a “fairly momentous vote”. A tender process to construct the facility, currently dubbed OKC Fairgrounds Coliseum, is set to commence immediately.

Designed by Populous, the arena will have a seating capacity of up to around 8,000. It will feature an innovative upper level concourse that can be configured to provide seating via retractable seats, sponsor activation zones, vendor space, or any combination of these elements.

The 140-foot-by-270-foot event floor is driven by equestrian events, but will be able to host multi-purpose events such as state basketball finals, Disney on Ice, state wrestling finals, concerts and rodeos. An open multi-story entry will frame a view of the Oklahoma City skyline from the concourse level.

Populous was commissioned by Oklahoma State Fair Inc., with the expectation that construction will be able to commence following this year’s fair, which runs from September 15-25. The new facility will replace Jim Norick Arena, which opened in 1965 and is named after the city’s late mayor.

It is intended that the current venue will operate until the new arena opens in 2024, at which point it will be demolished. “Currently it has the largest economic impact of any publicly owned facility we have here in Oklahoma City,” said Populous senior architect Travis Pawley, according to local newspaper The Journal Record.

Regarding the new arena, Pawley added: “It’s a really flexible space. It can go from about 5,000 seats in an equine and livestock setup up to about 8,000 seats for a basketball or concert type of setup.”

Ron Norick, chairman of the Oklahoma State Fair board of directors and a former mayor like his father, said planning for a new arena commenced over a decade ago when his father was still alive.

“I can assure you that he would be very happy when the Jim Norick Arena is removed and the new coliseum is open,” Norick said. “On behalf of the 15 major horse shows that we produce in Oklahoma City, all those executives are extremely excited that this happened. They’ve been talking about it for years.”

In July, Holt called for discussions on a potential new arena for the city’s NBA basketball franchise. Oklahoma City Thunder currently plays at Paycom Center, which opened in 2002. The team has played at the arena since 2008 but its lease is due to expire in 2026.

In March, the Council outlined plans for a $105m renovation of Paycom Center as part of a wider project to enhance the guest experience at the arena. The venue is owned by the City of Oklahoma City, which selected Populous to develop a masterplan for the renovations.

Image: Mayor David Holt