OKLAHOMA CITY (OBV) – The Thunder will remain in Oklahoma City far into the future if voters approve a plan to build the NBA team a new arena that will cost at least $900 million.
Oklahoma City leaders and OKC Thunder leadership finalized a plan to build a new downtown arena that will keep the Thunder in Oklahoma City beyond 2050, according to city officials.
The decision comes 14 months after city and Thunder officials began discussing a new arena.
“As this very public discussion played out over the last year, the people of Oklahoma City have overwhelmingly expressed to me two desires – 1) keep the Thunder for as long as possible, and 2) don’t raise taxes if it can be avoided. We have accomplished those two priorities with this plan, and it is truly a win-win for all of us,” said Mayor David Holt. “Perhaps the most important aspect of the deal is the length – this is twice the commitment we received in 2008 and will keep the Thunder here beyond 2050. My children will be my age when this agreement ends. For a generation, we will retain the economic impact and quality-of-life benefits we have enjoyed as a big-league city. It is an investment that pays for itself many times over. With this new arena, we will also continue the aspirational investments in ourselves that our residents have made for a century. We will construct an arena worthy of America’s 20th-largest city, leaving a legacy to future generations.”
Construction of the new arena hinges upon Oklahoma City residents approving a temporary one-cent sales tax that city officials said will not raise taxes. If approved by voters, the temporary tax will begin after the conclusion of MAPS 4 – the latest phase of OKC’s ongoing city revitalization initiative that began with the original MAPS in 1993 – and will not increase the city’s current sales tax rate.
Holt and City Manager Craig Freeman will present the arena plan’s elements to the City Council on Sept. 26 and request that the plan be sent to voters for a Dec. 12 election.
“A simple majority of the Council is required to call for the December 12 election, and a simple majority of voters is required for passage on December 12,” city officials said.
Holt and Freeman will also present to the council a letter of intent signed by Oklahoma City Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett, committing the Thunder to play 25 years in the new arena if voters approve the one-sent sales tax and legal documents are signed.
The plan is for the new arena to be completed and ready to go by the 2029-2030 NBA season, if not sooner.
Primary funding sources for the arena is as follows:
- A temporary one-cent sales tax lasting 72 months that will begin after the expiration of the current MAPS 4 one-cent sales tax. The current sales tax rate in Oklahoma City will remain the same as it is today and there will be no tax increase. The method of using sales tax shares the overall tax burden with the many visitors who enjoy events at Oklahoma City’s downtown arena, as it is generally estimated that approximately a quarter of all sales tax in Oklahoma City is paid by non-OKC residents.
- At least $70 million from MAPS 4 that was previously earmarked for OKC’s downtown arena.
- A $50 million contribution by the owners of the Oklahoma City Thunder toward the publicly owned arena.All three of Oklahoma City’s previous downtown arenas have been paid for entirely by taxpayers. The $50 million contribution committed by the owners of the Oklahoma City Thunder to the new arena is a first in City history.
“It is also worth noting that the team ownership’s $50 million contribution is a first in City history, and that commitment to this community is deeply appreciated. I commend and thank Clay Bennett and the entire Thunder organization for their collaboration during this process,” Holt said. “I also want to thank the City Council, many of whom have reached out to me many times over the past year to contribute feedback to this process. That feedback – as well as that of the public – has certainly been incorporated. I want to also thank the City Manager and his team for their incredibly hard work to this point. Now, I look forward to presenting this win-win to our residents for their vote on December 12.”
The new arena will help the city attract major concerts and other entertainment events.
The Paycom Center is Oklahoma City’s current arena. The MAPS sales tax initiative funded the $89.2 million arena, which was initially referred to as the MAPS Sports Arena. It opened in June 2002 with a new name, the Ford Center. The name was changed to Chesapeake Energy Arena in July 2011, and then to the Paycom Center in July 2021.
The Thunder and various entertainment attractions at the Paycom Center have been a boon to Oklahoma City’s economy and workforce.
Economic impact studies cited by city officials state that the Thunder has an annual economic impact of $600 million and 3,000 jobs.
Oklahoma City has grown from the nation’s 31st largest city to its 20th largest city, and its GDP has risen 62 percent since the Thunder came to OKC in 2008.
The Thunder generated $55.8 million in direct spending in the pre-COVID 2018 calendar year, according to Greater Oklahoma City Chamber data.
Thunder games attract droves of fans from OKC and out of town, which brings large revenue to businesses in the city. In-town game attendees spend an average of $75 per game in gameday-related expenses, and Thunder fans from out of town spend $237 per game on expenses that include food, lodging, fuel and retail, Greater OKC Chamber data shows.
The new arena will be a major economic asset for the city, said Christy Gillenwater, president and CEO of the Greater OKC Chamber.
“This is an important day for our community. Securing the Thunder for another generation and making sure Oklahoma City remains competitive in bringing concerts and other events to the city is critical. The presence of major league sports is simply vital to our city’s image and to our continued growth,” Gillenwater said. “Our community is fortunate to have visionary leadership from our Mayor and City Council, effective and professional city management, and team ownership that is committed to keeping professional sports in our market. We believe our community understands the importance of a new arena to maintaining our competitive position as a city, and we look forward to securing our city’s momentum on December 12.”
The current arena is 581,000 square feet, the smallest in the NBA by square footage. It was originally designed to meet National Hockey League requirements. It is also the second-cheapest arena in the NBA, having received a total investment of around $200 million – far less than the most recently built NBA arenas, the Chase Center in San Francisco, which opened in 2019 and cost $1.4 billion to build, and 2018’s $524-million Fiserve Forum in Milwaukee.
Seating for Thunder games and other events at Paycom is as follows:
- Basketball – 18,203
- Concert (360°) – 16,591
- Concert (270°) – 14,666
- Concert (240°) – 13,486
- Concert (180°) – 11,555
- Concert (Theatre) – 3,613
- Ice Rink – 15,152
- Boxing – 16,757
City officials have not yet revealed the new arena’s size and seating specifications.
Building a new arena is essential for meeting the needs of an elite NBA team, which is necessary to keep the Thunder in Oklahoma City, as well as ensuring top concert and entertainment attractions come to OKC, city officials said.
The Thunder’s chairman is excited for the team to remain in Oklahoma City and anticipates great mutual growth.
“For fifteen years the Thunder has been honored to help lead the transformation of Oklahoma City and enhance the tremendous pride our citizens have in their community,” Bennett said. “We now have an opportunity to build on that progress, advance our status as a true big-league City, continue to grow our economy and secure the long-term future of the Thunder. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Mayor Holt, members of the City Council, and the forward-thinking business and civic leaders in our community. Together we can develop an arena to serve as a crowning achievement in the ongoing renaissance of Oklahoma City.”