When new Carolina Hurricanes owner Thomas Dundon appeared at the Centennial Authority’s quarterly meeting two weeks ago and described his vision for a dramatic new PNC Arena scoreboard that stretched “from blue line to blue line,” there was an almost palpable sense of giddiness both inside and outside the room.
N.C. State chancellor Randy Woodson leaned back in his chair to share an excited glance with a university colleague while Dundon’s phrasing flashed across social media. It was yet another way Dundon, who had owned the team for less than a month at that point, was trying to capture the attention of a fan base long neglected under previous ownership.
The reality of Dundon’s request was more mundane: The authority already had budgeted for a state-of-the-art new scoreboard in fiscal year 2020, so he was really asking the authority – the city, county and state authority that governs the arena – to put other priorities aside and move it up a year.
The tricky details of those other priorities emerged Thursday at a morning meeting of the budgeting subcommittee, where the flywheels of government gather inertia and the gears mesh, and not always smoothly.
Even if the $6.6 million the authority has allocated for the scoreboard and speaker upgrades is sufficient, with the Hurricanes on Thursday agreeing to cover any overages, and enough maintenance and other expenses can be moved back a year or two, the fiscal year 2019 budget for capital improvements is still about $1 million short.
“We’ve got some decisions to make in terms of what we’re going to fund with what we got,” authority financial director John House told the subcommittee.
That led to some mildly contentious discussions Thursday morning between authority members and team representatives as the optimism of Dundon’s initial appearance before the authority – and the genuine appreciation of authority members for Dundon merely showing up, something his predecessor had never managed – faded into the nitty-gritty of figuring out how to make the numbers work.
A scheduled two-hour meeting was just enough time to cover all the items planned for 2019 that were deferred to 2020 and beyond to make room for the scoreboard, with a three-hour follow-up meeting added for early March to actually make some decisions. One of the missing pieces of information: a final price tag for the scoreboard, which is still waiting on engineering studies of the roof.
“We’ve made commitment that if it exceeds that number we will fund it,” Hurricanes president Don Waddell said. “Or we will come back to you and say, ‘We’ve found out the roof and hoist are a lot more money,’ and we’ll push it back to the normal budget year. But this is big deal for us, and hopefully N.C. State, and our new ownership.”
As much as a priority as the scoreboard has become, it’s just one of several areas that need improvement, and the bigger issue for the authority is how to pay for $13.7 million in improvements and repairs with $12.7 in funding, a discussion that veered into some bigger-picture issues.
Steve Stroud, the authority’s original chairman, said the arena was “stale” and falling behind Charlotte’s Spectrum Center in the race for major events, and that the authority’s budget was proving insufficient to finance the necessary enhancements. Stroud said it was a “PR nightmare” asking the governments that financed the arena’s construction for help.
If we can get our political leadership to understand what a jewel we have here, maybe we can get some money to fix this building and do some great things for this community.
Steve Stroud of the Centennial Authority
“If we can get our political leadership to understand what a jewel we have here, maybe we can get some money to fix this building and do some great things for this community,” Stroud said. “I hope we can use this as a springboard to make this building what we all believe it could be. We built great bones. We just didn’t have the money to enhance it to begin with.”
Stroud later gestured to Waddell at the other end of the table, representing Dundon, who was with the Hurricanes in New Jersey for their game against the Devils later Thursday night.
“Don, you need to tell Tom in the interim, we need a little help,” Stroud said.
“He’s put $260 million in so far to stabilize this franchise,” Waddell said. “I don’t know what else you need.”
That exchange was less heated than it sounds. There appears to remain a general consensus among the authority members that delivering Dundon his scoreboard as soon as possible is a worthwhile endeavor. The issue is figuring out how to do that without deferring anything that needs fixing or upgrading now.
It’s the $1 million question, and there isn’t an easy answer, but the authority exists to find one.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock