Carolina Panthers unveil stadium improvement plan

sharrison@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 7, 2014 

The Carolina Panthers unveiled Tuesday the team’s first phase of planned renovations for Bank of America Stadium, which will include four new escalator bays and video boards that are more than twice as large as the current screens.

The team said the $65 million renovations will make the 18-year-old stadium one of the NFL’s most modern, and that every fan visiting the 74,000-seat facility will benefit.

The team will start renovations in two weeks. The Panthers play their first playoff game in five years at home Sunday, and could host the NFC Championship a week later if the team wins and Seattle Seahawks lose this weekend.

The renovations are mostly funded by the city of Charlotte. The Charlotte City Council last year voted to give the team $87.5 million in exchange for a firm six-year “tether” to keep the team in Charlotte.

Of that $87.5 million, $75 million is slated for construction. The rest of the money – $12.5 million – are operating subsidies for the team.

The Panthers are spending $37.5 million for this phase of improvements.

The city’s contribution comes from its Convention Center fund, which is funded by a 3 percent tax on hotel and motels rooms and a 1 percent tax on prepared food and beverages in Mecklenburg County.

The team hired Turner Construction for the 2014 renovations, which are scheduled to be finished July 1.

The Panthers plan to build four new escalator bays to bring fans to the upper bowl faster. The escalators can carry 6,000 people an hour, the team said.

The bays are designed to blend in with the stadium’s architecture. The escalator bays will be covered from the elements, but won’t be climate-controlled.

Team president Danny Morrison said the escalators were the team’s “No. 1 priority.”

Majority owner Jerry Richardson wants the escalators for fans who first bought season tickets in the 1990s and might now find it hard to walk the ramps to upper bowl seats.

The team has escalators today for elderly and disabled fans.

On top of the escalator bays will be four new “party plazas.” These spaces will allow fans in the upper bowl to congregate, watch games on TVs and have views of the city and uptown skyscrapers.

The team installed its current video boards in 2008. The new boards will be 2.5 times as large, and have a higher resolution, said architect David Wagner, who is working with the team.

The new board will be 200 feet wide and 60 feet high.

Morrison said the team wanted to ensure the video boards fit in with the stadium and weren’t too big.

“The driver for us was scale,” he said.

In addition to the video boards, the team will install two new “ribbon boards” on the interior of the stadium. The team already has ribbon boards, but the new boards will be larger, giving the team more opportunities to show in-game statistics, fantasy football statistics and advertising.

The team will also install flagpoles on the top of the upper bowl that will double as new speakers to improve the stadium sound system.

As part of its agreement with the city, the Panthers agreed to provide the city and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority with five rent-free days a year, from January to June.

One of the rent-free days is used for the Belk Bowl, played in December. But the city and CRVA won’t be able to use the stadium for a special event during construction this year, Morrison said.

The team plans to push the rent-free dates into the future, he said.

Morrison said he hopes to undertake renovations in 2015 and 2016 as well.

The team’s long-term master plan calls for about $250 million of improvements.

The Panthers and the city started their negotiations last year with that number in mind, but the General Assembly nixed the city’s plans to raise the prepared food and beverage tax. Legislators only allowed the city to use existing Convention Center funds.

The city expects to start negotiations with the Panthers again before the six-year tether expires, possibly in as soon as two years.

Morrison said the next phases of renovations would include replacing HVAC units. The team wants to renovate all seating areas, including suites and club areas.

“We have been fortunate,” he said. “The bones of the stadium are fantastic.”

Morrison said he believes the stadium will be modern enough to host a Super Bowl once the first phase of renovations are finished. The problem, he said, is that the Charlotte region may not have enough hotel rooms to land the NFL’s showcase game.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

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