$10M Arena Renovation Shows Off Theatrical Innovation

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The unveiling of the Pacific Ballroom at the Long Beach Arena occurred with much flair Wednesday night, showing off to a few thousand guests the ability for the arena to be converted into an intimate ballroom with the flick of a few million-dollar buttons.

But the actual magic of the massive, $10M re-imagining of the space remained largely hidden through the design and architectural innovation of John Fisher and Jerry Sherman.

Fisher, at home with the firm JFSA, approached the Arena’s 2011 RFQ bid with something no one else did: theater tricks.

The main thrust of Fisher’s proposal was to turn the Arena’s ceiling space into the world’s largest operable tension grid. Tension grids, composed of beams and weaved airplane cables, are the hidden structures which give theaters and performance spaces their lighting. The brilliance of the tension grid is two-fold: the cables give the lighting designer the ability to hover over the entire floor space for precise lighting arrangements while the walkable wire structure only loses a max of 5% of the light emitting through it.

ArenaBall 01“In other words, [there is] complete flexibility—what the Arena specifically requested,” Fisher told the Post. “We’ve been using tension grids for twenty years in our theaters [designed by JFSA, such as the La Jolla Playhouse]… Every other offer coming in revolved around massive truss systems.”

Despite being cost-effective, the price to make the tension grid across the Arena’s 45,000 sq. ft. space would have cost a fortune. Fisher avoided this by creating a checkerboard-style design that still permits accessibility for precise lighting without the cost of a fully covered, edge-to-edge tension grid.

“Lighting is the new architecture—it drives your adrenaline,” Sherman said. “We knew big firms could compete so we went theatrical since lighting completely alter your environment and create space and mood without gouging your wallet.”

The 500,000-pound tension grid takes about 15 minutes to lower, with the edge curtains about eight minutes. What this roughly translates into is that, within the span of less than a half-hour, the 13,000-person arena can be turned into a space that can fit anything from a party of a few hundred to a party for 5,000. And the sensation is much like a building-within-a-building since the space itself entirely alters and leaves behind the massive feeling of a common arena. Instead, it becomes a ballroom, hence its namesake.

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Though the $10M price tag might seem steep for what can generically be named a fancy lighting structure, the economic viability of the investment is already proving fruitful: $29M have already been made in bookings for the new space, a mighty number given that it just had its first event yesterday. According to Megan Rodriguez with the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, an addition $10M in bookings are in the pipeline.

The Pacific Ballroom is officially open and can be used by itself or in conjunction with its companion venues, the Pacific Gallery and Patio and Bogart & Co. The ballroom is located within the Long Beach Arena, south of Seaside Way and north of Shoreline Drive.

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