Warriors' new San Francisco arena to be full of creature comforts

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SAN FRANCISCO — The Golden State Warriors have existed in sharp contradiction as they’ve built their recent hoops dynasty: While brash owner Joe Lacob has spoken about dominating the NBA for decades and Stephen Curry has mastered the audaciously deep 3-pointer, the franchise has worked and played in perhaps the league’s most modest surroundings.

Oakland’s Oracle Arena, renowned for its passionate crowds, is the league’s oldest building and sits off the I-880 freeway inside a barren sea of concrete parking lots. The Warriors’ practice facility, smartly decorated with title banners and historic murals, is located on the top floor of a downtown convention center. While rivals have trotted out glittering stand-alone practice facilities and state-of-the-art arenas, the back-to-back champions have raced ahead of the competition on the court and made do off it.

That’s about to change once Curry and company move into Chase Center in San Francisco for the 2019-20 season. Every aspect of the Warriors’ billion-dollar palace supports the franchise’s wide-ranging ambitions: from its unprecedented financing approach, to its luxurious design, to its multi-use capabilities and meticulously designed retail complex.

“Our facilities now are adequate,” Warriors chief operating officer Rick Welts said while showing off Chase Center’s construction progress during a January tour.

“But our owners felt that, to do this in San Francisco, the building had to represent the best of the best. That’s the only way they roll. Chase Center must be a suitable home for arguably the best basketball team on the planet, and we want every world-class artist to think that their resume isn’t complete until they play here.”

Lacob, a billionaire venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins, and co-owner Peter Guber, the famed Hollywood producer and chief executive officer of Mandalay Entertainment, have spent years navigating red tape to prepare the arena for its September opening.

Their first proposed site, on the San Francisco Bay at Piers 30 and 32, encountered heavy resistance because of the community’s desire to protect its waterfront property. The current site is on a 10-acre lot in Mission Bay that’s set back slightly from the water and bordered by the San Francisco Giants’ Oracle Park to the north and the UC San Francisco campus to the west. The Mission Bay Alliance, a local advocacy group, picked up the obstructionist efforts, but the Warriors withstood multiple legal battles to break ground in January 2017.

While Chase Center follows many 21st-century arena trends — favoring an intimate fan experience instead of maximizing its seating capacity — the building’s financing runs counter to established norms. With ownership purchasing the undeveloped land from Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and footing the bill for construction costs, the Chase Center complex is the first privately financed modern sports arena. This massive expenditure will enable the Warriors to consolidate their arena, practice facility and basketball operations offices under a single roof and allow them to tighten their grip over all aspects of their business.

“We’re transforming from being a basketball team that rents its building to a sports and entertainment organization that’s responsible for every aspect of its business,” Welts said, noting that the Warriors will add 100 business-side employees and 1,000 part-time employees under the new operating arrangement. “Oracle is owned by the city and county, and none of the Oracle staff works for us. At Chase Center, we will own and operate this building. We’ll book and manage all the events. We’re responsible for the security. If there’s a stray piece of paper on the plaza, that’s our fault.”

To help offset the costs, the Warriors will transition from being Oakland tenants to San Francisco landlords. The complex features 580,000 square feet of nearby office space and 100,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space. Uber will move its new headquarters to the office complex within months of the arena’s opening, and the Warriors anticipate the entire entertainment district will be ready for the 2020 NBA playoffs.

Chase Center itself appears to be a cash cow, to say the least. Eyeing a larger presence in the Bay Area, Chase signed a 20-year deal worth a reported $300 million for naming rights. The multi-use building will be deployed as an 18,000-seat basketball arena, a large-concert venue and a theater-like space that can scale between 2,000 and 5,000 seats for smaller shows. That versatility will accommodate 200 events per year — vastly increasing its revenue potential — with changeovers from the theater setup to the full arena taking less than 24 hours.

Fans will certainly help foot the bill. Warriors chief revenue officer Brandon Schneider estimated that season ticket holders will see an increase of roughly 10 percent compared with similar seats at Oracle, with some longtime ticket holders experiencing more dramatic increases because their current seniority discounts will not carry over. Season ticket holders also will be subjected to a one-time “membership fee” — similar to a personal seat license — that gives the user the rights to his or her seats for 30 years. After that period, during which seat holders may transfer or resell the rights to their tickets, the membership fee will be refunded.

While the Warriors won’t divulge the full details of their membership fee program, which varies based on seat location, half the fees are said to be $15,000 or less. Sticker shock hardly has stemmed demand, with a target of roughly 14,000 season tickets nearly met and a 44,000-person waiting list.

Those lucky enough to get in the doors will be treated to significant upgrades. The arena’s new video board will be orders of magnitude larger than Oracle’s, and there will be 12 kitchens, compared with Oracle’s one. Accenture, the management consulting company, is guiding the building’s technology approach, which aims to eliminate WiFi lag and enable smooth delivery of stats and video to mobile devices.

Chase Center’s most memorable features are aimed at one-percenters. Premium courtside suites, built under the lower-bowl seats so they aren’t visible from the court, are equipped with a butler, a well-appointed dining room area for social events and a private wine cellar. The true “wow” feature? A full wall of screens that can display live video from a camera stationed at the specific seats owned by the suite holder. That way, the ultra-rich can enjoy a private pregame dinner without missing warmups.

Thirty of the 32 luxury suites have been snapped up, mostly by corporate clients, at a cost of between $1 million and $2.5 million for a year’s worth of basketball and non-basketball events.

“The things that Oracle doesn’t have were the things we had to have to be able to compete for a championship for the next 30 to 40 years,” Welts said.

If the suites were designed with Silicon Valley hotshots in mind, Chase Center’s approach to transportation is more populist. The long-term plan is for fans to commute to games on foot and via car, car sharing, bike, scooter, water ferry and municipal train, which will hook up to the BART system. There are 1,000 parking spaces underneath the arena, plus numerous off-site lots that currently accommodate the Giants’ 43,000 game-day visitors.

Moving one of the league’s most popular and profitable teams was inevitably going to leave some feeling left behind. The Warriors have played in Oakland since 1971, cultivating a die-hard local fan base through lean years that produced just four playoff series victories from 1978 to 2012. To critics, the move across the bay stands as a symbol of gentrification and urban abandonment, and Warriors coach Steve Kerr has admitted that leaving Oakland for San Francisco is “bittersweet.”

Given that half of the Warriors’ ticket-holder base hails from the East Bay, the franchise has adopted a proactive approach to paying tribute to its longtime home. Golden State has launched a “Celebrate 47” marketing campaign and sported “The Town” jerseys, which feature Oakland’s signature oak tree logo. The Warriors’ community foundation also has committed to giving equally to Oakland’s Alameda County and San Francisco County following the move.

With roughly six months remaining on the 32-month construction project, there are still secrets left to reveal. The Warriors haven’t released renderings of their new locker rooms, the court has yet to be installed, and a major art installation that will greet fans outside the arena has yet to be unveiled.

Yet Welts can picture the Warriors in their new building, down to the finest detail. On a recent tour, he noted that Chase Center’s tunnel to the locker room will not extend parallel to the baseline like Oracle’s but instead will angle back behind the hoop.

If Curry wants to continue his famous pregame “tunnel shot” at his new home, he will need to launch the ball over the backboard. “Don’t bet against him,” Welts said, dispensing words of advice that also apply to the Warriors’ future.

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