June 29, 2022



Take a look inside the $338M Moody Center for basketball, concerts in Austin

5 min read

It also seems, with about 48 hours before the doors open to the public, to not be quite done yet.

“If you would have seen the building Friday, you would have had a heart attack,” Tim Leiweke CEO of the Oak View Group — the company who signed the check for construction — said with a smile. 

First look at Austin's expansive, $338M Moody Center set to open this week

First look at Austin’s expansive, $338M Moody Center set to open this week

Courtesy, Dalton Johnston, Multivista

As Leiweke led our tour group through the expansive, $338-million-dollar concert and sports arena, it would seem that the live entertainment mogul would be having one of his own. 

We couldn’t use certain doors because painters were furiously moving rollers up and down the walls. The sounds of drills and glass breaking punctuated the entire 90-minute tour. Furniture for the Germania Insurance Club was stuck at the border. At one point it appeared that a green trash can was catching water from the ceiling. 

But Leiweke was unfazed.

“By Wednesday, when John Mayer comes here for soundcheck, we’ll be done,” he said. “By the time he gets on stage, it will be perfect.”

The Moody Center features a second-floor terrace, with views of DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, the UT Tower, and the Texas Capitol.

The Moody Center features a second-floor terrace, with views of DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, the UT Tower, and the Texas Capitol.

Chris O’Connell/MySA

After working on 22 arenas, including The O2 in London and L.A. Live, this is par for the course for Leiwecke and company. And with an assist from UT’s Minister of Culture Matthew McConaughey — who Leiweke told me was in every design meeting for the arena — some of the finishing touches include integrating the building into the fabric of the city and the state of Texas. 

Walking into the Moody Center from Robert Dedman Drive, where 80% of folks will enter the building, the first thing you see is a Tito’s Handmade Vodka bar. Leiweke, admittedly a big fan of the spirit, also stressed the importance of having a big Austin brand right at the front door.

“My choice was this one because I drink it all the time, and I’m in love with it,” Leiweke said. “And also I can’t believe that’s his real name.” Tito’s is owned by a man that proves nominative determinism: Tito Beveridge.

Elsewhere in the arena in the way of local food and beverage are Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, Tony C’s Pizza, and Koko’s Bavarian. The latter of which is partly owned by Moody Center partner and C3 owner Charles Attal. Directly across the main concourse is Shaquille O’Neal’s Big Chicken, partly owned by OVG, and the two have a friendly bet over which one will sell more food.

More local flair: the arena is colored by murals painted by local artists like Rex Hamilton and Will Hatch Crosby, whose “Ambassador of Weird” character, a mashup of a Longhorn and a yeti, towers over part of the concourse. And each “portal,” or, entrance to seats, is given a number and a name of a Texas musician. “Meet me by portal 5,” you might tell someone, or, so that they remember it, “we’re sitting in the Selena section.”

Alejandro Escovedo gets one too, and one portal had no name on it. I’m guessing they’re saving that one for Thor Harris.

Möet and Chandon have the most intimate and luxurious club in the arena.

Möet and Chandon have the most intimate and luxurious club in the arena.

Chris O’Connell/MySA

The Moody Center has four private clubs, one each from local businesses Indeed and Dell, opposite each other on the north and south sides of the arena’s lower level. At the floor level is the Germania Club. On the east end of the lower level is the swanky Möet & Chandon Imperial Lounge, with plush (but temporary, because, you know, supply chain) seats, leather couches, and fancy wood-paneling everywhere. 

About that wood. There’s a lot of it all over the place. The main concourse’s ceiling is covered in wood. The lighting fixtures in the private lounges have wood features. Even the bathrooms in the Möet Lounge have high-end wood contours. The company who shelled out, after all, is called Oak Wood Group. It’s on-brand.

The Moody Center stage from floor level.

The Moody Center stage from floor level.

Chris O’Connell/MySA

It doesn’t appear, even in the arena’s unfinished stage, that there is a bad seat in the house. On Monday, it was set up for UT basketball.

For basketball games, the Moody Center will seat about 10,000 fans, giving a more intimate feeling than the cavernous Erwin Center. When it’s time for a larger concert, though, at the press of a button the arena capacity expands to 15,000 as two “halos,” as they are called, retract into the ceiling. Leiweke gushed about having the best basketball arena in the NCAA as well as — as is his expertise — a world-class music venue. At one point he pauses the tour to scream into the empty arena. It doesn’t echo.

“This is one of the greatest acoustical buildings in music,” he beamed.

The view from the west end of the lower level, where 80 percent of ticket-goers will enter the Moody Center.

The view from the west end of the lower level, where 80 percent of ticket-goers will enter the Moody Center.

Chris O’Connell/MySA

That dichotomy between basketball and music has long been a difficult one for the city and the university. The Erwin Center was large enough for big tours, but way too big for basketball. It was also famously an acoustical nightmare, with a bevy of lousy seats and a record of having less-than-palatable concession options for years. 

But how could UT fund the perfect, intimate arena without thinking about the other almost-300 days out of the year, and without using public money? Some big bands would skip Austin in the past, especially as the Erwin Center deteriorated and other arenas in the country lapped it.

“No one’s skipping Austin, ever,” Leiweke said. “Never again. This will be one of the five most important music venues in all of North America.”

OVG and UT spent almost a year hammering out details relating to the business deal, signage, and the like, and Leiweke and UT Athletics Director Chris Del Conte had to have some difficult conversations. It is, after all, built on state land and owned by the university, but operated privately on most nights, for upward of the next 35 years.

“We had some infamous debates. We never got heated, we always found a way,” Leiweke said. “This building doesn’t get built without Chris. He is the superstar here. This started with him, this ends with him. Every problem I’ve had in the last two weeks, Chris stepped in to help us. He’s a good friend and a great partner and I will follow him anywhere.”

It’s unconfirmed if we’ll see Del Conte up on a ladder plugging the hole in the ceiling before the Moody Center doors swing open midweek. Regardless, I’m told, the only water falling on the evening of Wednesday, April 20 will be from the eyes of John Mayer fans as his Sob Rock tour swings through town.

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