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Sunday, July 21
Arena expected to be ready for home opener

Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- New Orleans Hornets coach Paul Silas says he will send his assistants to players' hometowns to work them out and make sure they are in decent shape.

"Once they come back in September and October, they better be ready,'' Silas said. "The majority of the players come back right after Labor Day. They start playing pickup games, working out, preparing their bodies.''

In the meantime, the New Orleans Arena is getting shaped up for the team.

Construction workers are tearing up concrete to install plumbing for a new visiting-team locker room. Across the hall, they will install 19 extra-tall, custom wood lockers, four coaches' offices, a sauna and steam room and video viewing area.

On the west end, high above the court, a 140-seat sky suite is being constructed.

The Hornets host their first regular-season game Oct. 30 against the Utah Jazz. The arena, approved in 1994 to bring an NBA team to New Orleans and completed in 1999, will be NBA-ready before that, says Glenn Menard, assistant general manager of the arena.

"We think we'll be ready to go in early October,'' he said Friday.

The state is paying $10 million for the upgrades, as part of the agreement bringing the Hornets to New Orleans.

Twelve new luxury suites will be completed before the opener to give the Hornets 56 suites, plus the new sky suite, which is available only on a season-ticket basis. The existing 44 suites will be refurbished with new carpet, televisions and furniture.

A courtside club room, for fans who have premium courtside seats, will be built as phase two. It will feature a restaurant and bar, a fenced patio, and a glass wall between the club room and the hall through which Hornets will walk to and from the locker room.

A club lounge located behind sections 111-114 will be renovated to include a food and beverage station.

Menard said a new basketball court has been ordered, and a matrix board will be installed around the entire ring of the arena to provide advertising and visual effects.

A new team store will be housed in the street level lobby.

"It's kind of a fast-track process and so far everybody has hit the mark,'' Menard said. "I think everybody from the governor's office to the legislature knew that the Hornets tip off in October. So everybody got on board early and understood the process.''

Hornets spokesman Harold Kaufman said the team's logo will be tweaked slightly to reflect the team's relocation to New Orleans. The new logo will be revealed within the next two weeks.