Panthers to begin renovation after 2013 season

Carolina Panthers president Danny Morrison said the team plans
to begin renovations on its 16-year-old stadium immediately after
the 2013 NFL season and estimates the project could take two years
to complete.

The master plan calls for between $261 million and $297 million
in upgrades, according to Morrison.

Charlotte’s City Council is backing a proposal to give the
Panthers nearly $144 million from a food and beverage tax increase
to pay for stadium upgrades and the team is seeking more than $60
million in state funds.

Morrison said the goal of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has
been to improve the experience for all 74,000 fans, not just those
in the luxury suites.

”He gave us directions that the majority of plans need to be
for 74,000 fans, not just premium seating,” Morrison said. ”That
list we’ve came up with affects all 74,000 fans. We also wanted to
retain our classic designed stadium in a park but also bring it to
the forefront with modern technology.”

The primary objectives include installing three escalators to
reach the upper level, new video and ribbon boards and an improved
sound system, as well as upgrading technology and stadium
infrastructure and improving access to the stadium through enhanced
entry gates.

Some of the other potential upgrades down the road include
adding a roof terrace, a team history area, field club and an
indoor practice facility.

Morrison emphasized the plan is fluid and could undergo changes
along the way.

”There are some things you might end up not doing,” Morrison
said. ”And there could be something which surfaces with technology
we don’t even know about.”

Morrison said there are five priorities in the renovation:

– Installing three escalators that reach the upper level.

”If you were 55 years old when you bought a permanent seat
license you are over 70 now, so that’s a big deal to us,” Morrison
said. ”We’ll still maintain the ramps, but now fans would be able
to take the escalators up.”

– Upgrading video and sound, including two new, larger video
boards, two ribbon boards, and a new sound system will help the
Panthers keep up with other NFL venues at an estimated cost of $59
million.

– Installing new technology upgrades, including creating a new
fiber backbone, cabling, WiFi, DAS and an IPTV distribution
system.

”When people go to a game they’re expecting more stats to keep
up with fantasy football,” Morrison said.

– Renovating the infrastructure of the stadium itself, which
Morrison draws the comparison to maintaining your existing home.
That includes upgrading the HVAC system, the playing field,
concrete and seats.

– And, improving the entrance ways to allow easier access to the
stadium. Since the team installed a new ”wanding” process to
screen fans entering the stadium it has slowed down the ability to
get inside and created longer waiting lines outside.

”We have to have a more efficient system,” Morrison said.

The Panthers stadium is middle-aged by NFL standards.

That’s why the Panthers brought in four outside consulting firms
in the summer of 2011 to analyze they stadium and determine its
overall functional ability and the health of the stadium

He said they all found the ”bones” of the stadium to be in
great shape.

At that point it was clear the team would begin the process of
upgrading the current stadium rather than building a new one.

Since the stadium opened in 1996, 25 other NFL stadiums have
been built over undergone major renovations and three other cities
– San Francisco, Minnesota and Atlanta – are contemplating new
stadiums.

Populous, the company formerly known as HOK Sports, built the
stadium in the mid-90s and was also hired to handle the
renovations.

”It made sense because they built it,” Morrison said.

Morrison said the Panthers would love to host a Super Bowl and
the new upgrades would certainly help bring it up to par with some
of the best stadium in the league.

The problem has always been an issue of hotel space in
Charlotte.

As a general rule, a Super Bowl host city is required by the NFL
to have 25,000 hotel rooms available within an hour of the
stadium.

However, according to business research strategist Heath Dillard
of the Charlotte Region Visitors Bureau there are 24,010 rooms in
Mecklenburg County alone and an additional 7,600 rooms in the
surrounding six-county area.

The problem is the there are only 4,100 rooms within walking
distance to downtown, according to the CRVA. That could prove to be
a deterrent to the NFL since it typically prefers to keep people in
a cluster of larger downtown hotels.

”I think anybody in the NFL would love to host a Super Bowl,”
Morrison said. ”One of the reasons Mr. Richardson built it for
74,000 people is so it would have the capacity to host a Super
Bowl. Originally stadium was going to be for 65,000 but he expanded
it in case we were ever to host a Super Bowl.”