Garth Brooks has a loving nickname for the Legacy Arena at BJCC.

“I love coming to play at the Bunker,” said the country star. Also: “This thing is only one old concrete palace. “

But the next time Brooks performs in the Birmingham city center performance hall, he will likely have to come up with a new nickname.

Thanks to a $ 125 million renovation, the Legacy Arena has gone from a towering concrete structure with a distinct retro vibe to an eye-catching, brighter, and more contemporary building.

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To start with, there is a new main entrance with lots of windows, a welcoming plaza, and considerably more space for the flow of crowds. It is meant to inspire a “Wow! Reaction as people approach the location on Ninth Avenue North near 19th Street.

The arena – which reopens on December 5 for a Birmingham Squadron basketball game – has around 15,000 new seats, new lighting system, new sound system, new club levels for socializing , new suites for the public, new suites for artists, new locker rooms and new concession points of sale. The number of bathrooms has increased, especially for women. The loading dock has been enlarged. Elevators and other improvements make the place more accessible to people with disabilities.

How is the place different? Well, pretty much everything.

“After the demolition, there was only concrete left,” said Tad snider, Director General and CEO of BJCC. “We removed everything except the concrete structure and rebuilt it. … If you think of it in terms of renovating a home, you take it to the posts. But it’s the same envelope. That’s kind of what happened here – we brought it back to its shell and rebuilt the inside. “

The main architect of the project is people, a Kansas City, Mo-based company. The general contractor is Birmingham BL Harbert International.

Snider gave AL.com a tour of the building on a recent weekday, highlighting the top-to-bottom changes that have been underway since April 2020. Right now, the arena is about 90% complete, Snider said. , and he expects it. be ready for game day. (Get a glimpse of the interior of the building in the photo gallery at the top of this article.)

The Squadron – the G-League affiliate of the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans – will have its home ground at Legacy Arena, with more than 20 games scheduled there this season. The first concert on the program is the Trans-Siberian Orchestra on December 15, followed by Riley Green Green on January 29, Reba McEntire on February 24, Billie Eilish on March 8 and Eric Church on March 25.

Comedians Bill Burr and Jeff Dunham are scheduled to perform in the arena in April. Gymnastics and dance events for the 2022 World Games will also take place at the site. Traditionally, touring events like Disney on Ice, Monster Trucks, and WWE smackdowns have hit the arena, and fans can expect these to return in the future.

Nostalgia tends to be keen on the Legacy Arena, which opened in 1976. The venue has been an important mainstay on Birmingham’s sports and entertainment stages, and its rich history includes concerts by Elvis Presley, Prince, the Who, the Police, Metallica, Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, Mary J. Blige, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Jay-Z and many more stars.

“It’s the soul of a building,” Snider said. “You can’t recreate this.”

But times and technology have changed, Snider said, and it was clear the arena had to change with them.

“There have been different generations of building designs,” Snider said. “This arena, built in 1976, would probably have been a Generation 1 building. It’s either up to Generation 4 or Generation 5 now. … When you came to a show in the 70s, your expectation was: it’s going to be loud; I can have a hot dog, popcorn, and beer. That’s all you wanted. It was the wait. This is clearly no longer the case. You want to be able to experience an event as if you were sitting at home with your large TV, next to your refrigerator, and have access to everything you want. It’s just an evolution of the fan experience. You have to match that with what the building can do now.

Among other things, this means state-of-the-art lighting, top-notch sound, improved acoustics, and LED ribbon displays (used for graphics that “chase” around the arena bowl). Over 180 TVs took to the stage, helping ticket holders keep up with the action when they get concessions, search for fan merchandise, walk around the premises, or head to the washroom.

And here’s the good news for people who like to post selfies on social media: The arena’s wifi and cell coverage will be “dramatically improved” to handle large crowds. No more photos that do not load, tweets that do not transmit or texts that remain blocked in transit.

Twelve suites on the site have been redesigned and improved – think of the suites you see in modern football stadiums, typically licensed by businesses and corporations – and two new club suites offer perks for anyone looking to purchase a ticket. premium.

“It’s kind of a trend now, for a lot of people who come to shows,” Snider said. “They don’t really want to be in a closed suite. They want to be in a social space. In the club area, you don’t have walls to lock yourself in, and you can congregate and move around. You can walk to the bar and still see the show. … It will be a slight increase over a regular ticket, but you have your own bar and toilet. You have seats up front if you want to come and sit down, but you also have places where you can stand at a table and talk, and do whatever you want during the show.

Most spectators will never see the behind-the-scenes changes in the arena – the massive loading dock, for example, or the four new locker rooms – but Snider said those improvements were crucial as well.

“When we get into the programmatic phase of this, what are we trying to accomplish? – we asked: How can we affect the fan experience? Snide said. “How can we improve this for our clients, the show promoters and the team? How can we make doing business easier and more profitable in the building, and ensure that the people who buy the tickets have the best experience possible?

“I think it’s about talking to the people who are going to use the building and finding out what’s important to them so that you don’t make assumptions,” Snider continued. “One of the big things was to tap into the basketball building nature, and see how we get back into the NCAA tournament conversation. So we went to our SEC partners and said, “Okay, if we’re investing in this building, what are the things you need to see to bring NCAA basketball back to this building?” And we have the list.

“We went to talk to our concert promoter partners – what is important to you? – and we have a list. We spoke to all of our staff who use the building. What are the things, if we can improve some functional aspects of the building, what do you want to see? And we put it all together. Some sort of natural order pops up towards the top, when you put it all together, and then you decide, OK, how much of this stuff can you afford to do? And how do we approach it? “

A bond sale in August 2018 generated $ 125 million for arena renovations, as well as $ 175 million for construction of the protection stadium, about four blocks away. Both are part of the Birmingham-Jefferson City Center Convention Complex.

According to the original plan, Legacy Arena was scheduled to close for renovation after a full month of programming in March 2020 – including a booming concert by Cher – but when the coronavirus pandemic hit Birmingham, the arena closed for about two more weeks. sooner than expected.

COVID has ravaged the concert industry across the United States, as tours have been canceled, venues of all sizes have closed and music lovers have stayed at home. Today, about 19 months later, the industry is in recovery mode, but the concert world is not yet back to normal.

Snider said the BJCC team faces such challenges with optimism as Legacy Arena reopens.

“You have to think creatively about how you are going through this time,” Snider told AL.com earlier this year. “Our mission is to bring people together for rallies. The only unifying ingredient in this is bringing people together and we can do it. We want to go back to where people say, “My favorite artist is coming to town. I will buy my ticket and have a good time. Having the ability to have 14,000 to 15,000 people in your building and help achieve that goal is very rewarding. There will be a new normal in 2022. Either way, we plan to do it right.