CHARLOTTE — The City Council heard public comments on the University City Area Plan on Monday night and voted to spend $975,000 to install 8,700 new seats at Bojangles’ Coliseum. The funds are part of $16 million the council allotted late last year for phase-one renovations and upgrades to the nearly 60-year-old dome.
The University City Area Plan is Charlotte’s guide to shaping development around the future LYNX Blue Line extension that will run along a 9.4-mile route connecting Center City with the University Area and UNC Charlotte. The area is about 2,600 acres and is generally bounded by Interstate 85 and the I-85 Connector, University City Boulevard and Mallard Creek Church Road.
The city is updating the 2007 plan to account for changes in the extension’s station locations. The plan covers three regional transit stations: University City Boulevard, McCullough, and JW Clay Boulevard/UNC Charlotte. Another on UNC Charlotte’s main campus is addressed by the UNC Charlotte Campus Master Plan.
The city is seeking transit-oriented development around the stations that includes vertically integrated mixed-use buildings. Policy recommendations will influence future land use, community design, transportation and open space. In total, there will be 11 stations along the extension.
The city staff recently made recommendations to update the plan that include, but are not limited to, nonresidential ground-floor uses with clear glass windows and prominent entrances with sidewalk-accessible doors and a diversity of housing types with different scales and heights.
Outside of transit station areas, many sites will likely remain regional destinations with highway oriented uses, typically accessed by automobiles. The area plan emphasizes the need for enhancing pedestrian and bicycle connectivity in these areas and supports the transition to more walkable areas as redevelopment and infill occurs.
Bob Wilhelm, vice chancellor for research and economic development at UNC Charlotte, was one of several speakers in favor of the plan. He said he represented UNCC Chancellor Philip Dubois in supporting the development and economic growth the Blue Line extension will bring to the area. He said the school now has 27,000 students and anticipates a total enrollment of 35,000 in the near future.
The city’s Transportation and Planning Committee will continue to review the area plan and make a recommendation to the City Council, which will consider adopting the plan at a future meeting.
Meanwhile, the council approved 10-1 a contract with American Seating Co. to remove the coliseum’s current 9,300 seats and replace them with 8,700 folding seats that are two-inches wider. The old seats are 17- and 18-inches wide. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority says the top complaint from Bojangles’ patrons is the current comfort level of seating.
The new configuration reduces seat count per row from 15 to 14. The CRVA, which operates the coliseum, says the proposed reduction in capacity will not impact revenue. The council will consider approval of other related contracts in May and June.
Republican Kenny Smith of District 6 was the sole councilmember to vote against the $975,000 contract. In light of the city’s expected $22 million budget shortfall, at-large Councilwoman Claire Fallon said the money is already earmarked for hospitality and tourism, and cannot go towards other projects.
Last December, the council approved $16 million for phase-one renovations and upgrades at the coliseum, in part so the Checkers hockey team would relocate from Time Warner Cable Arena back to its original home. The funds were earmarked for new seats, concession stand upgrades, an improved sound system and mechanical and electrical upgrades. Also on the table were a new scoreboard, digital ribbon boards, premium seating areas, external marquees, internal signs and upgrades to the locker room and lighting. The CRVA requested the upgrades in order to meet American Hockey League standards.
Phase-one improvements will be covered by the Charlotte Convention Center tax fund, which is financed by existing hospitality tax revenue. The last renovation at the arena was for $2 million in 2002.
In March 2014, staff members from the city and the CRVA submitted a 20-year plan for $51 million in renovations to the coliseum. It was part of an endeavor to revitalize the area along Independence Boulevard with an amateur sports complex near the coliseum. However, a proposed $76.7 million public-private partnership to build a field house and 150-room hotel with Florida developer GoodSports Enterprises hit the skids a couple of months ago after GoodSports said it would suspend talks for a year to focus on a similar project in Wichita, Kansas. The Kansas deal has since fallen through.
The Charlotte Checkers hockey team is scheduled to return to the coliseum, which is owned by the city, in October. The CRVA and the team have agreed to a 10-year term, with two additional options for five-year extensions. The Checkers will pay market rent.
Phase-two construction, which will include electrical, structural and HVAC modifications, is slated for the summer 2016. City staff expects to bring a contract to the council for approval by the end of this year.
The coliseum averages 85 annual events that include graduations, consumer shows, civic events, concerts and performances. The venue has average annual attendance of 183,232, the city says.
In other developments, the council also unanimously voted to approve a $559,860 contract with Perkins and Will North Carolina Inc. for architectural renderings and reports for an expansion project at Concourse A North at Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The area is now occupied by rental car companies that will be moved to Wilkinson Boulevard and the new hourly-parking deck. The expansion will include eight to 12 new gates.
It also unanimously approved a $519,892 contract with industrial lighting distributor Graybar for the purchase of LED lighting for three airport parking decks. The city says replacing the halide fixtures will reduce carbon emissions by 462 tons and save $50,900 in annual energy, labor and parts.