CHARLOTTE – The City Council is expected to vote Dec. 8 on approving $16 million for phase one renovations to Bojangles’ Coliseum, including $4 million in upgrades that, if approved, could result in the Charlotte Checkers moving their minor-league hockey games to East Independence Boulevard for the 2015-16 season.
In March, staff members from the city and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority submitted a 20-year plan for $51 million in renovations to the nearly 60-year-old dome. The coliseum is owned by the city and managed by the CRVA.
The city staff had planned to spend $12 million in the first two years, but is in negotiations to sign a 10-year lease with the Checkers, who now play home games at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble presented the details to the council Monday at its premeeting dinner.
The planned $12 million in renovations would include new seats, concession stand upgrades, an improved sound system and mechanical and electrical upgrades. The seats will be larger and more comfortable, Kimble said, and will reduce the number by around 700 to about 10,000.
“We don’t have that many events that sell out,” said Tom Murray, the CRVA’s CEO.
The $4 million would cover a new scoreboard, digital ribbon boards, premium seating areas, external marquees and internal signs and upgrades to the locker room and lighting. The CRVA is requesting the upgrades in order to meet American Hockey League standards.
“We are extremely excited about the possibility of returning to our roots at Bojangles’ Coliseum,” said Tera Black, the Checkers’ chief operating officer, in a statement. “We believe the move would be greatly beneficial for our organization, our fans and the city of Charlotte.”
About $8.6 million would be spent by summer 2015, and the remaining $7.4 million by summer 2016. Phase one improvements would be covered by the Charlotte Convention Center tax fund, which is financed by existing hospitality tax revenues, said Kimble. The last renovation at the arena was for $2 million in 2002.
Kimble said a move by the Checkers would free up an additional 38 days for other events at Time Warner Cable Arena, and would provide a regularly paying Bojangles’ tenant that may make the arena profitable. Kimble said the coliseum hosts events on 85 days annually, and that the arena and neighboring Ovens Auditorium averaged a $500,000 loss in each of the last three years. He said the addition of the Checkers would allow the coliseum to at the very least break even or return to profitability.
“There’s a lot of pluses and a lot of benefits,” Kimble said.
Kimble said the move is supported by the Charlotte Hornets, and “brings the Checkers back home to where they started” in 1956. The agreement would begin October 2015 and last 10 years, with two possible five-year extensions. The Checkers would also use the coliseum for youth athletic programs affiliated with the organization.
The Checkers will pay rent and share between 5 and 15 percent of concession revenues, depending on the volume of sales. The CRVA gets parking revenues.
The building opened in 1955 as the Charlotte Coliseum and was the first free-span dome in the U.S., said Kimble. The exterior is registered as a historic landmark, and any renovations would have to follow standards associated with the designation.
Kimble said the renovations are unrelated to a proposal by GoodSports Enterprises to build a $76.7 million amateur sports complex and hotel.
The city in September filed a rezoning petition for the land behind the coliseum, and a public hearing on the rezoning is scheduled for Jan. 20.
GoodSports has proposed building a field house and a 150-room hotel and constructing a parking deck and paved lot on 20.3 acres. The Sarasota, Fla.-based company has been looking for equity partners and has put projects on hold in Ohio and Indiana, according to media reports.
Concerning that project, Kimble said: “It remains to be seen when that will be brought back forward.”