Prince, the diminutive pop icon, requires his dressing room to be completely black, so as to allow for the black-lighting of the neon-colored art that accompanies him on the road.|
This tiny bit of insider perspective comes courtesy of Marco Perez, general manager of the University of New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena, who kept Athletic Business Conference & Expo attendees informed and entertained during a tour of his facility Wednesday.
“The room was insane. The man is crazy,” Perez told the dozens of tour-goers as they strolled the arena’s inner corridors, adding, “Diana Ross is even crazier.”
That’s because Ross, the Motown legend, requires five dressing rooms, each serving its own designated purpose. Moreover, bouquets of flowers in her rooms must be in her preferred stage of bloom or else they get rejected. “We once threw out seven flower arrangements,” Perez says.
The tour guide then took the candor further by describing a visit from Kid Rock, who “got busy” with then significant other Pamela Anderson to the point a bathroom in one of the arena’s “star suites,” as Perez calls them, sustained damage. “He came out, put some money down and said, ‘It was worth it.’ ”
Perez and Lakefront Arena — which was designed in the 1960s, stalled due to funding issues and finally opened in 1983 — are no strangers to damage. After Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Perez says, “We were totally destroyed.” With its roof ripped off, the arena festered in floodwaters. Mold growth was rampant. After a full three years of renovation, Lakefront reopened with a stronger roof and a new exterior skin applied over the old one, as well as new seating, sound, lights, carpeting and paint.
But while the arena has
come back, fans of UNO basketball have not — at least not in great numbers. A typical home crowd might hit 500 in a facility that can seat more than 9,000. For that reason, the booking of acts ranging from Disney's Mickey's Music Festival to Louis Farrakhan becomes the arena’s “bread and butter,” according to Perez, who credited head men’s basketball coach Mark Slessinger with his flexibility while the ABC tour paused in the arena’s auxiliary gym. “Your relationship with your coaches is so important,” Perez says. “Mark will move practice in here every time we need the main floor for a show.” (Slessinger paused to greet ABC attendees, calling Lakeshore Arena “our best recruiting piece beyond our city.”)
Want more star-powered name-dropping? Perez mentioned that the arena — rare for its inclusion of a natatorium (though UNO has dropped competitive swimming as a varsity sport more than once) — has been the site of several movie shoots, including the forthcoming “Grudge Match" with Sylvester Stallone and Robert DeNiro, and the 1996 bomb “Heaven’s Prisoners,” starring Alec Baldwin. For Perez and aquatics center manager Janice Roth, who also addressed the tour group, it’s just further evidence of New Orleans' emerging status as “Hollywood South.”
Lakefront Arena, meanwhile, continues to evolve post-Katrina. The antiquated center-hung scoreboard that was lost to the storm will not be replaced. Instead, two large and six smaller LED boards will adorn the arena interior. FEMA would only replace a center-hung board of equal value to the old one, for starters, and not having one at all allows for better rigging of shows, Perez says.
A courtside LED board already in place — and displaying “Welcome Athletic Business” for the benefit of ABC tour-goers — is the first step toward adding “a more modern feel to the arena,” Perez says, sounding a bit like a kid on Christmas morning. “We’re playing with new toys.”