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St. Pete Times Forum renovations adding new spark to Tampa Bay Lightning games

How would you spend $40 million? If you're Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, it means cup holders in every seat, a digital pipe organ and indoor lightning bolts. • Those are a few of the improvements awaiting fans as the Lightning hosts its home opener Monday at the St. Pete Times Forum. • Vinik vowed to make the 15-year-old arena one of the nation's best and dug deep in his own pockets to make it happen without any burden on the taxpayer. Upgrades focus on creating a strong sense of place and improving the fan experience, especially in the top deck. Yes, we're thinking Rays fans are jealous. • Construction crews have been on site 16 hours a day for four months trying to finish the job. Most of the work — but not all — should be finished by opening night. The main entrance and new restaurant will follow about mid November. • CEO Tod Leiweke offers this disclaimer: If the lightning coils, which obviously need extensive testing, aren't working perfectly by Monday, they'll wait until they are. After all, there are 40 more home games. • Here is a rundown of what fans can expect.



Indoor lightning

Project planners wanted no one to forget they are in the home the Tampa Bay Lightning. So they installed two Tesla coils (named after their late 19th century inventor) to make indoor lightning. The Doc Brown-inspired coils will zap 25-foot lightning bolts high above the ice. The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry has the coils in an exhibit, but this is said to be the world's largest permanent installation. Let's see the Carolina Hurricanes beat that.



Pipe organ

Ownership decided to remove about 600 seats from the third level to add a pipe organ, fan viewing area and bar. The digital organ has five keyboards, a 300-speaker sound system and a rotating base. The 63 pipes are displayed with a huge Tampa Bay Lightning sign that will light up red, white and blue during the national anthem. Fans can see the organist in action from the observation area overlooking the ice and a surrounding bar.

Party deck

Management thought outside the penalty box to create a new outdoor party deck on top of the old Icons and Medallions restaurants, which will become one mega dining space. Dubbed the Bud Light Party Deck, the 10,000-square-foot upper-level space has five concession stands and drink bars. Expect to see fans taking photos of the view of downtown. It's stunning.



Pipe organ

Ownership decided to remove about 600 seats from the third level to add a pipe organ, fan viewing area and bar. The digital organ has five keyboards, a 300-speaker sound system and a rotating base. The 63 pipes are displayed with a huge Tampa Bay Lightning sign that will light up red, white and blue during the national anthem. Fans can see the organist in action from the observation area overlooking the ice and a surrounding bar.

Seats

One of the largest expenditures, the seats came up high on the must-do list, because who doesn't like to sit in comfort? Crews replaced all 19,000-plus seats with thick-cushioned ones with a cup holder, the most-requested item from fans who obviously have spilled a lot of beer. The club level got black leather chairs with the Lightning logo; the rest got dark blue fabric seats. That's a huge improvement for the nosebleeders, who have slummed it on plastic seats. Old seats will be sold as a fundraiser for the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation.



Main entrance

Once completed, the main entrance will have one large staircase (rather than the previous two) with access to the box office, VIP guest services and a 4,000-square-foot team store and cafe. The plaza's indoor and outdoor bar called Shots was eliminated. During construction, fans will have to enter through the doors to the left and right of the future entrance. In anticipation of delays, the Forum will open two hours before the puck drops, instead of the usual 90 minutes. Pregame concerts on the plaza will resume once construction ends.

Artwork

If the lightning bolts don't grab you, then the artwork might. The team put together a large collection of local photographs to differentiate Tampa Bay's arena from any other city's. Nearly 100 shots of team moments and local history are on display in the club-level concourse, along with two dozen silk canvas works measuring 7-foot-by-5. Another 10 photographic works show Lightning players next to actual local lightning strikes, proving art and sports can go together.

Suites

The suites got a luxury makeover with new furniture, flat screen TVs, built-in beer tubs and induction burners. To add space in the club-level suites, more than 70 private bathrooms were replaced with eight hallway restrooms. Eight corner suites on the first level were eliminated to open up the hallways and create viewing spots close to the ice. It wasn't an easy decision, Leiweke said. Those suites, which hold 18 people apiece, draw big corporate money.



Brighter lighting

Leiweke gets particularly excited about this one, so thank him for it when you see him. The team has added 242 lights to boost wattage on the ice, allowing Sun Sports to do super-slow motion replays. The additional bulbs exceed the NHL's standards and will enhance high-definition broadcasts.

Signage

Aqua may have looked fresh and hip a decade ago but now looks outdated and worn. Crews tore out the aqua signs, notably at the bathrooms and seat sections, and replaced them with sleek, dark blue and white ones. Other signs were converted to digital, including the "ring of fire'' that circles the arena at the terrace level. In all, the stadium will have 1.7 million square pixels.

­Lightning home opener

The Lightning's first home game is 7:30 p.m. Monday against the Florida Panthers. Tickets start at $25. For info, see lightning.nhl.com.

St. Pete Times Forum renovations adding new spark to Tampa Bay Lightning games 10/13/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 18, 2011 7:38pm]
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