161009-ATLANTA- GA- The NBA and Atlanta Hawks staff float at Gay Pride on Sunday October 9, 2016. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)161009-ATLANTA- GA- The NBA and Atlanta Hawks staff float at Gay Pride on Sunday October 9, 2016. (BECKY STEIN PHOTOGRAPHY)

Atlanta Hawks welcome LGBT fans, prep $200 million Philips Arena renovations

The sports arenas in Downtown Atlanta are in the midst of major changes — the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium swamps its next-door neighbor the Georgia Dome, and Phillips Arena will soon undergo renovations of its own.

Phillips, where Atlanta’s NBA team plays, will close for the summers in 2017 and 2018 for upgrades expected to take two years, but Hawks officials told Georgia Voice the team will play its regular 2017 to 2018 and 2018 to 2019 games in the Arena. The latter will also mark the Hawks’ 50th season in the city.

“Our goal is to ensure that our re-imagined Arena will be a venue that offers Southern hospitality and a warm welcome to all of our guests,” Nzinga Shaw, chief diversity and inclusion officer and SVP of community for the Hawks and Phillips Arena, told Georgia Voice.

The $192.5 million re-imagination is jointly funded by the Hawks and the city of Atlanta, which put forth $142.5 million for the project, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Key to the renovations will be the removal of the bank of suites on one side of the arena, and adding 360-degree connected concourses at all levels, improving sight lines and adding state-of-the-art video technology.

The Hawks, which signed an 18-year lease extension to remain in the Arena through 2016, finished this season with a 43-39 record, placing second in the division and fifth in the Eastern Conference, though the team lost in the first round of playoffs.

Shaw said the team is a regular at Atlanta Pride events.

“The Atlanta Hawks have shown our support of the LGBTQ community in many ways. For the past few years, we have participated in the annual Pride Parade, but more notably we created a custom float in October 2016,” Shaw said. “I’m hopeful that all sports leagues and teams across multiple platforms will be able to demonstrate acceptance and inclusion of their players and fans, regardless of sexual orientation.”

Last season, the Hawks hosted a Unity Night against the Cavaliers. According to the team website, the concept came from an internal forum in July “which followed a series of unsettling and alarming events around the nation during the summer.”

“The staff was challenged to think of ways the Hawks organization could unite the city and continue the positive and peaceful conversation taking place in Atlanta,” according to the site. “Within the forum, the consistent themes of community service, inclusion and using basketball as a change agent/unifier led to the creation of the event.”

During Unity Night, representatives from the Center for Civil and Human Rights addressed the crowd, and as a precursor, players volunteered with a number of service organizations.

“Fully supporting the LGBTQ community cannot be relegated to a ‘night,’ but rather it should be interwoven in all we do,” Hawks officials said. “The Atlanta Hawks do not have immediate plans to host an ‘LGBTQ Night.’ However, we are finding organic ways to show our support of this community, like partnering with the Atlanta Dream [the city’s WNBA team] in June 2017 for Pride Month by hosting community engagement activations across the city and integrating our fan experience elements into planned events.”

Editor Patrick Saunders contributed to this story.