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Goodbye, Compaq

HOUSTON -- Home, sweet luxurious home.

After spending the past 28 years at the beloved but long-in-the-tooth Compaq Center (formerly called the Summit), the Houston Rockets are getting ready to play at a new arena.

The $202 million downtown Toyota Center will include 94 luxury suites, a gourmet restaurant, a wine cellar, a scoreboard that offers nearly twice the resolution of those found at other arenas
and walls and counters made of stained cherry or maple wood or smooth to the touch granite.

But Rockets president and chief executive officer George Postolos said the new arena's features aren't strictly for fans or companies wealthy enough to buy a luxury box -- which can cost up to
$250,000 -- or purchase a $175 ticket to sit in the amenities-filled club area.

"Our seats are the nicest of any arena," he said. "They are 10 percent wider than at Compaq and have 10 percent more leg room. This has the most concessions stands, most restrooms of any arena
built. We had people analyzing the sight lines for every single seat in the building. The result of it is you have a good view from any seat in the building."

On Wednesday, construction workers were still putting the finishing touches on the structure, including pouring concrete sidewalks and buffing tile floors. They also set up chairs on the
yet to be installed basketball court for a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday with Rockets and local officials. An open house for fans will be held Sept. 13.

The first Rockets home preseason game will be Oct. 12 against New Orleans while the first regular season home game will be Oct. 28 against Denver.

The downtown arena is replacing the Compaq Center, the NBA's second-oldest arena, which had 16,285 seats and only 20 luxury boxes. The Toyota Center has 2,000 more seats and will also be the
home to the WNBA's Houston Comets and the Minnesota Wild's minor-league hockey affiliate, the Houston Aeros.

Tim McDougall, vice president of marketing for the Rockets, said fan anticipation for the new arena is building and has translated into good season ticket sales, which are a little more than double
what they were this time last year.

"That's fantastic for us because we had a good sale season last year," he said.

While ticket prices in some of the most expensive sections of the arena, such as at courtside and the club area along both sides of the court, have increased, fans on a budget will have more
chances to see a game.

The new arena will offer 5,500 seats that cost $25 or less, including some tickets for $10. At Compaq Center, that number was only 3,000, McDougall said.

Even the red-cloth seats highest up from the basketball court offer a good view of the action, in part because the court sits 32 feet below street level and the rows of seats are aligned in a bowl shape.

After enduring several detours along the road to the arena, including an initial rejection by voters of a bond proposal and offers to move the team to Louisville, Rockets officials said they are happy the facility is almost done.

"We've reached the promised land," Postolos said. "All the hard work has paid off in a beautiful facility for Houston."