LAFAYETTE, La. (The Daily Advertiser) – Forgive Cajundome Director Greg Davis and Operations Manager Phil Ashurst if they’re feeling a little giddy these days.
For six long months, they’ve been waiting for this time.
Since the spring, the Cajundome has been closed for renovations … major ones.
“It’s a $21.2 million dollar renovation,” Davis said. “It’s a major renovation.”
The official grand opening will be for UL basketball doubleheader on Dec. 1, but actually, there was a “soft opening” Tuesday with the Louisiana Baptist Youth Conference packing the remodeled facility.
While so many construction projects often take longer than expected, there was never a fear of that obstacle in this project.
“There was never a doubt that it would be ready,” Davis laughed. “This event has been booked for over a year. It was going to be ready.”
Ashworth said he began planning for the renovation since 2010.
“The schedule was the most important thing,” Ashworth said. “I started scheduling things a year and a half ago. We’ve been working with JB Mouton (Builders) for a long time on this. They’ve been great to work with.”
In short, the new-look Cajundome will look fancier, have far less wasted space, include far more options in the concessions areas and fans have will far more accessibility to their seats, to restrooms area and concession areas.
“I just think the entire fan experience will be much better,” Davis said.
“Everything is just so much more efficient than it was before,” Ashurst said.
But the thing that’s got Davis the most excited is way the basketball game or the concert will be viewed now.
“It’s going to be a lot more like going to the theatre,” Davis said. “It’s going to be a lot more intimate.
“The court is going to be the center of focus. There will be more lighting on the court and the light will dissipate as you go up.”
The seats and the walls are now black, so feature the light on the court or the stage more than before.
The new seats also feature cupholders on every seat in the house and there will now be rails from the floor to the ceiling to make climbing stairs to your seats a much easier process.
“I think people will really enjoy that,” Davis said. “That’s going to be very nice. We’ve always heard a lot of comments about not having those.”
The primary focus was to enhance the viewing for basketball games.
Basketball seating will go from about 11,200 to 12,300, sais Ashurst.
Concert seating will increase from about 9,000 to 10.3, and “and the big thing there is we added a lot prime seating on the first level,” Davis said. “That’s a big deal with competing for national tours.”
The old aisle between the courtside seating and the first row of seats has been replaced with three rows of new seats.
The new configuration on the floor will provide about 500 more seats for concerts and 12 different configuration options to provide more flexibility for different events.
The lightshow aspect of basketball games and concerts will be enhanced.
For example, the area can now be any color desired. So picture the scene for a UL basketball game. The court will be more lighted, the seating areas will be more in the dark and the entire ceiling could be in red.
Concessions is another area to receive a major upgrade.
Previously food was prepared outside the concession areas and brought there to be sold.
Now the concessions areas have been enlarged so the grilling and frying will be done in each concession area.
“So if you want to order a grilled chicken sandwich with grilled onions and no cheese or cheese and sweet potato fries, you’ll be able to do that now,” Davis said. “Before, you could just order what was there.”
Davis said there will also be many more options for hot dogs, nachos and hamburgers.
Also, all the concession stands will now have TV by them, so customers won’t have to miss the action while in line for food.
The bar areas will also be enhanced with the beer options doubling from eight to 16.
And in the corridors underneath the new seating areas, there will be tables and TVs to sit and eat.
The other obvious improvement will be the timeline graphics on the walls behind the seating. It’s a museum-style presentation on the history of UL basketball.
“There’s a great history of UL basketball from the beginning,” Davis said. “I’m from the time of Bo Lamar and Roy Ebron, so I was very excited about seeing that..
The front lobby will also be filled with banners of Cajun players, as well as a display of former UL players in professional basketball.
For Cajun basketball fans, the Cajundome will no longer look like a civic arena that hosts UL games. It will look more like a shrine to UL basketball.
The only parts of the project that won’t be completed by the official Dec. 1 grand opening will be restrooms and concession areas on the third level concourse area.
By that Dec. 1 date, Cajundome officials will be ready to make money again after six months of inactivity.
Several steps were taken to withstand that huge financial hit. For starters, Davis said the Cajundome overbooked events in the 18 months prior to the project.
Secondly, Cajundome employees were used to help with the renovations, largely in restroom repairs and seat installation.
“We definitely wanted to protect our Cajundome employees,” Davis said. “We were very concerned about that.”
The increased efficiency of the facility will help as well.
“We won’t have to change a light bulb in 10 years,” said Ashurst, who said the LED lighting will save between $20,000 and $40,000 over the next five years.
The bathrooms will now have auto flushers with a 10-year battery life.