Photo courtesy of the Erie Otters Hockey Club. A close-up of demolished message board sign on East 9th Street.
Thirty years after it first opened in Erie, Pa., the Erie Insurance Arena (formerly the Louis J. Tullio Arena) is undergoing an extensive renovation and expansion.
The $47 million project began in December 2011 and is scheduled for completion in October 2013.
The project involves renovating the existing arena and adding new portions to the north, south, and west to create a state-of-the-art, multi-use entertainment complex with improved interior spaces and a landscaped outdoor park.
Each summer during the construction period, the facility has closed for five months to allow for minimum impact on sports teams and other tenants.
Prime contractors include Turner Construction of Pittsburgh as project manager under the direction of George Kane, P.J. Dick as general contractor under the direction of Jeremy Meadway, Church & Murdock as the electrical contractor under the direction of Dave Pollock, SSM as the HVAC contractor under the direction of Jeff King, the preferred fire system by Tim Walsh, and Spaeder as the plumbing contractor under the direction of Tim Devine.
The contract calls for adding square footage to widen the concourses as well as the entrance lobbies. Essentially, the building footprint was increased by 30 ft. (9.1 m) in the north and south sides and 60 ft. (18.3 m) on the west end. In addition, a new third level was created.
The scope of the construction/renovation includes numerous design improvements, such as the addition of arena seating and circulation areas. To allow for these new areas, the existing arena was expanded from 152,000 sq. ft. (14,121 sq m) to a total area of 218,000 sq. ft. (20,253 sq m). New seating capacities will increase to 6,500 for hockey, 6,750 for basketball and nearly 9,000 for concerts.
Other additions include additional restrooms; additional concessions; new sports lighting; new HVAC equipment; a new power source and increased amperages throughout the facility; new locker room spaces; a new steel rigging grid for concerts; new patron seating; new suites and a club level, bar, and lounge; new TV production spaces; new press boxes, a new full service kitchen; a second elevator; and new hockey boards and new hockey ice making equipment.
“Undertaking a $47 million restoration and expansion while the facility is in operation is a big challenge,” said Brighid O’Brien of the Erie County Convention Center Authority. “The facility is home to the Ontario Hockey League Erie Otters, NBA D League Erie BayHawks, and the Continental Indoor Football League Erie Explosion, as well as other numerous touring shows and concerts. It is/was challenging operating while these construction activities were under way.”
O’Brien noted that the project is unique in that a large scale public assembly facility undergoing a $47 million reinvestment is rare.
“Many communities abandon their existing facilities to build new ones,” she said. “We undertook two studies that verified it was worthwhile to reinvest in the facility that was built in 1983. If we were to build a new facility, exclusive of land acquisition, it would be at least $100 million to construct.”
According to O’Brien, a procurement policy requires that all steel be purchased from a United States company.
Funding consists of a $32 million grant from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a $10 million grant from the county of Erie, and $5 million from the Erie County Convention Center Authority.
The arena was built in 1983 as part of the Louis J. Tullio Plaza, which also includes the Erie Convention Center Authority’s Warner Theatre and Jerry Uht Park. Naming rights were purchased by the Erie Insurance Group in May 2012.