Mr. Ballmer Builds His Dream House: L.A. Clippers’ Intuit Dome Readies for August Opening

There’s a power outlet at every seat in the Intuit Dome, along with an adjustable fan. There are twice the number of restrooms in the L.A. Clippers’ soon-to-open new home in Inglewood, Calif. than are found in a typical sports arena. The ticket entry areas and concessions stands are built for frictionless, wireless transactions – nobody has to pull out tickets or find QR codes or wait in a long line to pay for beer and a bag of chips.

Everything about the 17,700-seat Intuit Dome, which is in the six-month countdown to its opening day in mid-August, is designed to indulge the experience of fans. And fans hate having to miss big moments on the court or the performance stage because of an empty stomach or full bladder. These are a few examples of how Clippers chairman Steve Ballmer, who owns the venue, took delight in designing a temple for basketball and performing arts for the 21st century, team leaders say.

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“What you’ll see [at Intuit Dome] is the culmination of research by thousands of people who have answered questions and been very generous with their thoughts for how we can make this place the most special place possible for people who love live events and want to be part of a community with others,” says Gillian Zucker, president of business operations for L.A. Clippers and Intuit Dome.

On Tuesday, Usher became the first artist to confirm dates to play the Intuit Dome on Sept. 21-22. Details for the venue’s opening night celebration are still to be announced. Usher, who will appear at Sunday’s Super Bowl as the featured half-time show performer, will stop at the new arena as part of his Usher: Past Present Future Tour.

Ballmer built his hoops dream house with an expansive vision for spreading amenities for fans at all ticket levels throughout the building. He tested no less than 40 kinds of seat cushions before settling on the design of Intuit Dome’s various seats. Ballmer, who stands over six-foot-four, made sure to invest in a sloped seatback design that doesn’t crowd the legs of the person behind them.

Beyond the personal comfort touches, the former Microsoft leader also has a vision of what the arrival of Intuit Dome should mean for the surrounding community in Inglewood. For starters, it needs to bring much-needed public spaces and recreational facilities to the area around the intersection of Prairie Avenue and Century Boulevard. Intuit Dome sits at the south end of the city’s stadium row that includes the Kia Forum (also owned by Ballmer) and SoFi Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Rams and L.A. Chargers NFL teams. Team Ballmer committed $100 million in a community benefits package for Inglewood before they got the greenlight to break ground in the heart of the city’s downtown.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 20:  President of Business Operations, L.A. Clippers Gillian Zucker celebrates donation of One Million backpacks from Baby2Baby, Kawhi Leonard and the L.A. Clippers to students across Los Angeles at 107th Street Elementary on August 20, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Baby2Baby)
Gillian Zucker in 2019

For Intuit Dome, there has been a concerted effort to hire local and to magnify the opportunity of construction and other jobs for companies and individuals from marginalized backgrounds. The team has spent nearly $200 million with local constrution business. The elaborate project has generated about 7,000 construction jobs to date and will yield about 1,500 permanent jobs at the arena, some part time. Local area hires so far accounted for 23.6% of the workforce and about 30% of the hours worked, according to the Clippers. Nearly 48% of subcontractors hired for construction and design were Black-owned, while 35% were Latino-owned. Overall, 35.8% of the Intuit Dome labor pool has come from minority backgrounds. The unemployment rate in Inglewood since construction began in 2021 has plunged to 5.9% from 17.5% (a number inflated by pandemic conditions).

The arena is purposefully built to be easily approachable rather than being obscured by high gates like most Hollywood studios. It’s also sunk deep into the ground as the venue sits right in the middle of the flight path to LAX, which is about three miles to the west. From stem to stern, the oval-shaped facility was built with sustainability and its carbon footprint in mind. There’s a solar farm on the roof designed to store up to six hours worth of off-the-grid energy. The venue is powered by reclaimed water as much as possible, and there are other enviro-friendly elements to be unveiled.

Moreover, the Clippers worked with the city of Inglewood to fund and upgrade the traffic control systems in the area. There’s been recent construction to widen Prairie Avenue to improve traffic flow in the area. The detached multi-level parking facility a half-block away is designed with the goal of getting the last car out within 30 minutes of the end of a game or event. SoFi Stadium, owned by Los Angeles Rams chairman Stan Kroenke and opened in 2020, has developed a reputation for long waits to exit the parking lot.

The entrance to Intuit Dome from Century Boulevard leads to an 80,000-square foot outdoor plaza with built-in steps for audience seating, inspired in part by the bleacher seats in New York’s Times Square. This area will be open to the public year-round. The hope is to encourage families to visit with a picnic lunch or ice cream cone, or for the space to host community events, basketball-related activities and even or even movie-night screenings on a giant outdoor LED screen. It’s a big investment in maintenance and security, but it’s in keeping with Ballmer’s vision, Zucker says.

“Look at the things that have been important to Steve all his life — his family, his philanthropic efforts in terms of making the American dream possible for all Americans, and his love and passion for live events,” Zucker says. “Everybody’s familiar with his love of basketball, but he’s also a big fan of comedy and music. So creating a space that gives room for everybody to be able to enjoy these events was what we were looking to build here.”

The facility also has 86,000 square feet of training, medical and player support facilities – including a conscious effort to make the visiting team’s locker room much nicer than those found in older NBA arenas. The Clippers main practice facility is built into the arena’s ground floor, alongside one of the full-size basketball courts, allowing fans to peek in. In celebration of high school sports, Team Ballmer has scoured the Golden State for jerseys from each of the 1,400 high schools that have a varsity-level basketball program. The plan is to display them all across an entire wall in the oval-shaped facility. The building floors are full of terrazzo tile and tiny details from floor to ceiling – etchings of basketballs and record albums on the ground, net motifs accenting lighting fixtures on the ceilings.

Ariel shot of Intuit Dome under construction in November 2023
Ariel shot of Intuit Dome under construction in November 2023

Intuit Dome is on track to open three years almost to the month that Ballmer and Co. broke ground on the construction project. A sparkling new arena with their name will be a welcome change for a team that has shared the Arena with the Los Angeles Lakers and L.A. Kings since 1999. Intuit Dome will eventually house all of the team’s staff and business operations. Ballmer first began looking for land for an arena with the team’s name etched on the wall about six months after he acquired the Clippers from embattled former owner Donald Sterling in 2014.

As such, Team Ballmer has taken care to make sure Intuit Dome didn’t land in Inglewood like a wrecking ball with little concern for the surrounding community. The level of partnership achieved with Inglewood mayor James T. Butts and other civic leaders has been heartening.

“In a community of this size, it’s really an opportunity to test how a public-private partnership like this can work to permanently impact the community for the better,” Zucker says.

Zucker, a sports veteran who previously ran the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., has worked for Ballmer as Clippers president of business operations since mid-2014. The experience of watching him bring the stadium to life gave her a glimpse into his leadership style in business rather than as a sports team owner.

“The attention to detail and the care that he has put into this facility is second to none. He drills down and he asks questions in such minute detail to really make you rethink what you know to be true,” Zucker says. “His special secret sauce is that he asks the right questions to challenge your mindset in a way that motivates people to create something unimaginable.”

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