Tulsa center getting $55M makeover

Project will add new front door, convert old arena to more exhibition space

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: July 11, 2018

A rendering shows the Grand Arrival Gallery, which will be the new entryway for the Cox Business Center once renovations are complete in 2020. (Courtesy Cox Business Center)

Work began this week on a $55 million renovation in the Cox Business Center that will expand the exhibition space and entryway at the downtown Tulsa, Okla., convention center.

The plan is to blow out the inside of what was a 9,000-seat arena inside the building while keeping the shell of the structure intact. That room will become an extra 40,000 square feet of exhibition space.

The changes will give the 310,625-square-foot convention center 160,000 square feet of exhibition space, roughly 20,000 square feet of conference halls and 11,000 square feet of meeting space.

“It’s great. We’ve been talking about it for a long time. The last 14 days have been so intense, clearing out 40 to 50 years of history in the arena,” said Kerry Painter, assistant general manager at the convention center.

In preparation for the construction, Painter and her team worked hours, sifting through files from years of concerts and events.

The arena opened in 1964, hosting acts from B.B. King to the Carpenters to Led Zeppelin.

The difficult task was deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, Painter said. 

“We’d sit and organize everything, and all of the sudden we realized we were sitting down and reading the history of the arena,” she said. “We saw who signed concerts and who canceled them. And to see the prices of shows back in the day was exciting.”

Hard equipment also needed removal before construction could start.

“We removed lights and speakers and doors and counters and cupboards. We stored a lot of equipment in storage,” she said.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the renovation is bolstering the convention center’s entryway, Painter said. Once construction is complete in 2020, the entrance will will face downtown.

“It’s a really big deal for us. We have many doors, (but) we’ve never had an official front door. So now it will orient the building differently, and the front will be facing the city,” Painter said.

The new front entrance will be built of glass and be called the Grand Arrival Gallery. It will have a three-floor open atrium and will include a dropoff area, staircase and escalator, according to the Cox Business Center website.

“Not only will we have prefunction space, but we have what’s called the assembly floor on the third floor. Now it will be open glass. You’ll be at one event on one floor and look down and see another event on a different floor. It will really make the whole lobby more real and animated,” Painter said.

The Cox Business Center is an SMG property and is adjacent to BOK Center — a 19,000-seat arena that opened in 2008 and is also an SMG property.

The two venues complement each other throughout the year on a number of events, especially since BOK Center lacks convention and exhibition space, said Casey Sparks, its assistant general manager.

Recently, the large arena celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a two-day George Strait concert. Venue officials sent VIP clients to the Cox Business Center for the after-party where Painter and her team fed 400 guests one night and 600 guests the next evening.

“We don’t really have any space for that at the BOK because it’s a traditional arena,” Sparks said.

The renovations at the Cox Business Center are being paid for by the Vision Tulsa tax package, which was extended by voters in 2016. That same tax built the BOK Arena 10 years ago.

The two venues also share a chef, Devon Levine, who splits his time between the buildings depending on the event. Savor, an SMG subsidiary, handles food and beverage at the venue.

“We’re in the business of selling the city,” Sparks said.

  • by Noelle Riley
  • Published: July 11, 2018