Orlando looks to make Magic memories in new arena, hang first championship banner

By Antonio Gonzalez, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

Orlando looks to make Magic memories in new arena

ORLANDO, Fla. — Magic coach Stan Van Gundy did a little house cleaning before the guests arrived Friday.

With time running out before the team’s new Amway Center arena would be filled with fans, Van Gundy volunteered to go from coach to cleanup crew. He joined about 200 team employees who dusted and cleaned all 18,500 seats, swept rows and scrubbed stairs — even buying everybody dinner afterward.

“I live here, too,” Van Gundy said. “It’s home.”

The Magic are officially moved in.

The plush palace opened to the public Friday with about 2,500 blue-and-white clad fans showing for the traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony, a sneak peak, mayoral address and Magic coronation filled with songs and celebration.

The way Magic ownership sees it, the building might even sway top free agents.

“When you’re in Orlando, a very attractive market to a player and in a market like this, that’s a recruiting tool when you need it,” Magic CEO Bob Vander Weide said. “I’m not going to be naive about it.”

The arena is quite a change from the bland facility the Magic vacated a few blocks away.

The new arena — almost three times the square footage of the old — is filled with wine bars, beer bars, indoor restaurants, outdoor cafes and even a nightclub. There’s a play area for kids, retail outlets, food courts and the largest video screen in the NBA.

Oh, yeah, there’s also a basketball court.

“This place is the best of the best,” All-Star center Dwight Howard said.

The biggest bonus for the Magic, of course, is new revenue streams.

The old Amway Arena wasn’t designed for corporations and high-end fans who spend big money on amenities. The old building, opened in 1989, was designed much like many buildings of its time with moneymaking luxury suites at the top of the arena.

“It was a tough sell,” said Magic President Alex Martins, who was instrumental in getting the new arena. “They were the worst seats in the house.”

There also were few bathrooms and even fewer concession stands in the old arena, creating long lines and confusion. Space was so limited that a tent for food and mobile restrooms had to be connected to the building during the NBA finals in 2009 to allow for the media crush and swarms of fans.

The Magic have left that all behind.

The new arena has two levels of luxury suites complete with all the personal televisions and gizmos circling the lower bowls of the arena. Every suite has been sold along with more than 14,000 season tickets, a franchise record. The team would cap season tickets at 15,000 if necessary, Martins said.

The $480 million arena was funded mostly by public money, although the Magic did contribute almost $100 million and built five community gyms throughout the area. Amway, co-founded by Magic owner and billionaire Rich DeVos, still bears the arena’s name.

The arena also houses the Magic’s new practice facilities and executive offices.

“I don’t care who you are or where you live, to have one place you call home is big,” Magic president of basketball operations Otis Smith said.

Touted as an environmentally friendly and certified “green” building, the arena still has a pardon-our-dust feel to it as crews work on small projects, most of which won’t even be viewable to fans come the preseason home opener Oct. 10 against New Orleans. Martins even joked as soon as a few weeks ago he had his doubts that the building would be ready for its official opening.

“It’s been frantic,” he said. “Almost round-the-clock construction.”

All that’s missing now is a championship banner.

The Magic twice made the NBA finals in the old arena but were never able to bring home the title. They did host an NBA All-Star Game — and will again in the new arena next season — but many of the building’s most memorable moments belonged to the visitors.

The home team is hoping for a reversal of fortunes in their new digs.

“A legendary building, ” Martins said, “that will house multiple world championship banners.”

will not be displayed