Thursday, June 7, 2007

"They Died Young"--Volume III

'80s/'90s THROW-AWAYS
It just amazes me how multi-million dollar projects like sports arenas can become irrelevant or outdated so quickly in this day and age.  What was once deemed "state-of-the-art" is already obsolete in many cases, and it’s incredible how some indoor sports venues become so useless so rapidly.  Here’s a look at a few examples:

There was a time when Miami had trouble attracting indoor sports franchises because the city didn’t have a suitable arena to play in.  Now, they have too many!  Miami Arena opened in 1988 as the home of the NBA's Miami Heat and Univ. of Miami basketball teams, and later served as the first home of the NHL’s Florida Panthers.  Nice arena, but with two major flaws:  1) it had no luxury suites (a curse that has befallen more than a few sports arenas before their time), and 2) it sits on the edge of a really bad neighborhood.  By the late ‘90s, both pro teams built separate new arenas—the Heat moved about three blocks down the street by the bay and the Panthers moved up to Broward County to an arena that's already had three different corporate names since it opened in 1998.  The U. of M. stayed on at Miami Arena for a while, but they opened their own place on campus in 2003 and the "Pink Elephant" has been shuttered and mostly likely is doomed to be demolished soon.

This gargantuan arena, once known as "The Hive", also opened in 1988 and was home of the expansion Charlotte Hornets of the NBA, and was also considered a premier venue for NCAA Tournament games, including the 1994 Final Four.  The Coliseum got off to a rocky start too, as its huge eight-sided main scoreboard broke loose and crashed to the floor the day after it opened in '88.  In spite of holding nearly 23,000 fans, the Coliseum was done in by the same tactical error that closed Miami Arena—no luxury suites.  That, combined with a dickhead owner (George Shinn), caused the Hornets to bolt for New Orleans in 2002.  The NBA quickly granted Charlotte a new franchise, the Bobcats, who played their first season in 2004-05 at the Coliseum until their fancy new downtown digs opened, and the Coliseum closed for good later in 2005 and was demolished just last weekend.  One would think you could get at least 20 years out of a new arena these days…

One of the more clever arena designs ever conceived is The Pyramid in Memphis.  They figured since their namesake city in Egypt had pyramids, why couldn’t they?  This beautiful glass and steel structure is the 3rd-largest pyramid in the world and opened in 1991 as home of the U. of Memphis basketball team, as well as concerts and tractor pulls, et al.  That ol’ no-suites bugaboo struck here too, and when the Vancouver Grizzlies of the NBA moved to town, it was contingent upon building a new suite-laden downtown arena, thus the FexEx Forum was put up right next to the Beale Street entertainment district.  Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band closed out The Pyramid with a concert on February 3rd of this year, and now the building awaits its fate, although it may be spared the wrecking ball because the city still owes a shitload of money on it—Dick Clark might call it the "$33 Million Pyramid".  There is talk of converting it into a Bass Pro Shops outdoorsman emporium or perhaps a casino or aquarium.  Worse comes to worse, they could always turn the place into a Super Mega Hooters...


This phenomenon of going through sports arenas like used cars isn’t confined to the ‘80s and ‘90s, either—several ‘70s venues barely even lasted 25 years.

The funky-looking Omni in Atlanta with its waffle iron-like roof was home to the dreaded Hawks of the NBA and the expansion Flames of the NHL when it opened in ’72.  It even hosted the NCAA Final Four in 1977, but Atlanta sports fans have this aversion to supporting losing teams, and the Flames bolted to Calgary in 1980, while the Hawks labored in mediocrity for nearly two decades (except during their halcyon days with Dominique Wilkins and Spud Webb).  The Omni decayed rapidly over that time, and Atlanta managed to snag a new NHL team, the Thrashers, so a new arena was needed.  Nextdoor neighbor CNN aired The Omni’s implosion live on July 26, 1997 and Philips Arena was built on the site.

The Capital Centre in suburban Landover, MD outside Washington, DC opened a year after The Omni, and lured the NBA’s Bullets out of Baltimore, as well as the expansion Capitals of the NHL, and also served as home to the Georgetown Hoyas basketball team.  The Cap Centre, with it’s distinctive saddle-shaped roof, was the first indoor sports arena to employ video replay screens, but was not well-regarded by fans because of its dark and depressing seating area (except during concerts when it was supposed to be dark anyway).  Perhaps the most famous event at the Cap Centre was the OT marathon in Game 7 of the 1987 NHL playoffs between the Caps and the New York Islanders where Pat LaFontaine of the Isles poked in the game-winner at 8:47 of the 4th overtime.  By the mid ‘90s, the place showed its age too, and was replaced in 1997 by the "Insert-cellphone-company-name-here" Center in DC, just a few blocks from the White House.  The Cap Centre sat vacant for five years and was imploded on December 15, 2002.

Denver’s McNichols Sports Arena was a rather nondescript flat white arena built into a hillside nextdoor to Mile High Stadium that opened in 1975.  It was home of the ABA/NBA Denver Nuggets, the NHL’s Colorado Rockies (not to be confused with the baseball team of the same name) from 1976-82, several minor league hockey teams in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and finally the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, who won the Stanley Cup in their first season in Denver in 1995-96.  Quite possibly "Big Mac"'s biggest claim to fame happened in 1976 during the old American Basketball Association's All-Star Game festivities, which featured one of the first slam dunk competitions ever held, where Julius "Dr. J." Erving electrified the crowd with an unforgettable running slam dunk for which he became airborne literally at the free throw line.  The NBA soon copied this event for their own All-Star weekend events.  But, just like its fellow '70s-era arena brethren, McNichols had very few extra amenities and fell to the wrecking ball in the summer of 1999 to make room for more parking for the Denver Broncos' new stadium, while the Nuggets and Avs moved about a mile away to the new Pepsi Center on the edge of downtown.

What I find really ironic about the above three venues is that the arenas they were built to replace are still standing and still in use.  Atlanta's Alexander Memorial Coliseum is still home to Georgia Tech basketball, Baltimore Civic Arena (now known as First Mariner Center) still houses indoor soccer's Baltimore Blast, and Denver Coliseum, former home of the Nuggets, still hosts small concerts, rodeos and circuses on a regular basis.


Anonymous said...

Awesome though...the Charlotte Coliseum hosted the 94 Final Four.

Brian Holland said...

You are absolutely right, it was 1994, not '93--I stand corrected, and so does the blog...