Taxpayers could foot bill for RBC maintenance

Part of the cost of upkeep -- $60 million over 16 years -- may fall on area residents

Staff WriterJune 24, 2006 

— It will take more than $60 million over the next 16 years to maintain the RBC Center and make the kinds of upgrades needed to keep it state of the art, according to a new study of the arena's future.

And it's likely taxpayers will be asked to pay for some of the bill.

The Centennial Authority, the public agency responsible for the arena, has about $11 million in reserve for capital projects. The pot grows by about $1.3 million to $1.5 million a year.

Still, officials say, that won't be enough to pay for all the projects. If the projections from the study hold, the money would run out in 2014.

Bill Mullins, chairman of the Centennial Authority, met with Raleigh and Wake County officials recently to talk about the needs. The arena was built, in part, with revenue from countywide taxes on hotel rooms and meals.

"I don't want them to commit every dollar from hotels and meals tax 20 years hence when we have an asset out there and we need to maintain it," Mullins said Friday. "They need to start thinking about it."

The study found that the arena is well-maintained and is the envy of other National Hockey League teams, Mullins said. Still, upgrades and maintenance, including roof replacement, a better sound system and a new Jumbotron screen, are needed to keep it up.

In the next fiscal year, the study recommends $3.1 million in improvements, including replacing the sound system in the lower seating bowl, adding concession equipment and installing a system that will allow customers to use a credit card at concession stands.

The study recommends a new Jumbotron in 2014 and schedules regular maintenance for other parts of the building, including the exterior, seating, plumbing, electrical equipment and locker rooms.

The arena, which opened in west Raleigh in 1999, is home to the N.C. State men's basketball team and the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, who won the Stanley Cup in the building this week.

In July, the authority plans to ask the Raleigh City Council and Wake commissioners for the authority to move forward on maintenance projects, paid for by the existing reserve, in the next fiscal year, Mullins said. An original agreement required the group to wait until 2009.

There also likely will be some discussion about how to pay for future improvements, which the reserve fund won't cover. Money from the hotel and meals taxes already is allocated for the new downtown convention center and other projects.

But Mayor Charles Meeker said revenues from those taxes have increased and are about twice as high as projected. That means there might be some money available, Meeker said.

"I assume the council and commissioners will be sure they want to maintain the facility," Meeker said. "In terms of the [upgrades], people will need to look at them to see if they're cost effective."

Staff writer Sarah Lindenfeld Hall can be reached at 829-8983 or slindenf@newsobserver.com.

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