SBJ/November 14 - 20, 2005/Facilities

Carolina Character

Barry Silberman, the primary creative force behind Charlotte Bobcats Arena, spent four months at the Charlotte Museum of History and on the streets of the city’s older neighborhoods, getting a sense of Charlotte’s evolution from gold-mining town to big-city banking district.

“Our [arenas] don’t always reflect the character of their community, so you can be in one building in Chicago or Portland or St. Louis, and you may not know where you are,” said Silberman, the arena’s chief operating officer. “You can look around this building, and from the public art we’ve done on the outside, as well as the inside, and with the projects we created as part of our sponsor program, I think people will really understand that this building’s Charlotte.”

Silberman wants visitors to the $265 million arena to know they’re in the heart of the New South, a metropolis bursting at the seams from rapid growth and yet clinging to its small-town heritage and memories of a simpler time.

The building’s landmarks and design quirks reflect Charlotte’s penchant for blending the old and the new, creating a pleasurable down-home mix of retro chic and cutting-edge technology.

See Also THE FALL OF THE COLISEUM

A collection of the arena details show the clash in styles: the classic but contemporary brick exterior; the industry’s most technologically advanced scoreboard (see related story); LED signs seemingly at every turn; the open ceilings and exposed pipes overhead in the suites, a design element reflecting the arena’s loft-style theme; and the fried pickles and three-cheese macaroni, Southern comfort foods adopted by Bobcats’ concessionaire and caterer Levy Restaurants.

The six local and regional artists commissioned to create works for the facility did their part to carry the yin-and-yang concept throughout the building, paying tribute to the city’s relatively newfound role as the nation’s second-leading financial center, and acknowledging the history behind the Carolinas’ role as a basketball hotbed. “That was unique for a project like this,” said Ellerbe Becket’s Doug Brown, the arena’s principal designer. “Usually, you have one or two artists.”

Fans coming in the main entrance are greeted by a large mosaic tile photo mural representing basketball’s roots in the Carolinas. It’s only the first appearance by the region’s hoops heritage in the arena’s design. The entry area’s interior is done in light tones, highlighted by neon bars in bright colors.

A basketball-themed mosaic tile photo
mural dominates the main entrance
to the arena.

The grand entrance’s terrazzo flooring and its colorful swirled patterns form a Yellow Brick Road of sorts, guiding visitors right up to the main entrance to the intimate lower bowl, which shows off the arena’s interior rather than hiding it away. Fans gather there to chat while they look into the arena bowl; it’s Charlotte’s newest and biggest front porch, like those that Silberman passed on his many visits to the neighborhoods of the city.

Ellerbe Becket designers incorporated the images native to Charlotte into a sports facility that also borrowed design aspects from other major league arenas the firm had planned: the spacious entry plazas at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and FedEx Forum in Memphis, the outdoor terraces at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla., and the upper deck children’s play area and unfinished look in the suites at SBC Center in San Antonio.

Silberman also liked the innovative premium seating concepts he saw at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and Nationwide Arena in Columbus, and had the architects customize moderately priced packages to make them affordable for businesses in the NBA’s sixth-smallest market.

The arena’s two suite levels are on the building’s second and third floors. Silberman, after visiting arenas and talking to his peers in the business, decided to build the suites closer to the action.

The second-level skyboxes are in a space other facilities have devoted to club seats, and NBA and NHL executives he talked to said they made the mistake of building too many club seats in their arenas.

“They found that their people were bailing out at renewal time and going back to [regular seats in] the lower bowl,” Silberman said. “That thought stuck with me.”

The suites don’t have glass walls and are open to the bowl to provide for better sound in those premium areas. Windows facing the hallways are a new suite feature, Brown said.

The Bobcats planned their 2,800 club seats to be the best in the house, along the sidelines in the lower bowl, and supported by exclusive concessions behind the seats. Club seat holders in Charlotte gather at the drink rails looking out onto the floor, areas that act as lounge spaces and provide a prime vantage point for watching the game.

The 10 suites on the second level cost $250,000 to $350,000 a year, and sold out before the NBA season, said Peter Smul, the team’s chief financial officer and executive vice president of business operations. The 50 suites one floor above sell for $95,000 to $170,000 and seat 16 to 18. A few remain unsold; Smul wouldn’t disclose an exact number, but he said “scarcity” exists in the less expensive category. The same is true for two of the building’s four club seat categories, Smul said.

The concourses, rich with references to local history, also provide exposure for local sponsors such as Beck Imports, a Mercedes-Benz dealer that sponsors the suite levels.

Lowe’s Home Court, the 2,300-square-foot concession space on the main concourse, contains seven interactive kiosks where fans can test their knowledge regarding 60 NBA and WNBA players and coaches that have connections to the Carolinas. Video images of them flash on screens overhead.

The home improvement store chain, based in nearby Mooresville, also sponsors a timeline graphic on a wall by an escalator leading to the upper levels. Lowe’s and the NBA were founded in the same year, 1949, which helped in the theming process, said Chris Molinsky, a principal at Workshop Design in Kansas City who designed the space.

The Lowe’s area contains high-top tables and was bustling before last Wednesday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs. Fans ate food from the collection of concessions stands and took a look at the practice court, visible from both inside and outside the arena.(Presbyterian Hospital put its name on the practice court.)

Rock the Rooftop, the 9,200-square-foot space on the stage end of the upper deck, is a public area Silberman thinks premium patrons will climb the stairs to visit. The space was jammed at halftime of the Spurs-Bobcats game, as fans lined up around the multisided Bud Light Billboard Bar and socialized in the area between the bar and the rail looking down over the floor.

Boys lined up a few feet away to shoot mini-basketballs in the Sprite Rufus Room, the children’s interactive zone. Other attractions in the Rufus Room area and the 24-foot-tall Coca-Cola tower, a rotating performance stage that’s also part of Rock the Rooftop, are still under construction and should be complete in the next week, said Molinsky, whose firm is designing the space.

Every Rock the Rooftop attraction must be portable to allow the Bobcats to install 1,500 temporary seats for the ACC and Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournaments, which require 20,000 seats. Seating capacity for basketball is 19,026 without the bleachers. The flexibility of the upper deck space is another unique element, Ellerbe’s Brown said.

A few themed spaces remain for sponsors, and the naming rights to the building are also still available, for a price of $4 million a year, industry sources have said. That would allow a sponsor to write its name into the local history that the arena was designed to celebrate.

Subcontractor List
Company Work performed
Hunt Construction Group General contractor
F.T. Williams Earthwork
C. Construction Co. Drilled piers
JM Wilkerson Pier caps, footings and foundation
William R. Nash Deep underground plumbing
Baker Concrete Construction Concrete superstructure
Qualico Steel High roof and catwalk, structural steel, low roof structural steel
Metromont Prestress Structural precast seating
Otis Elevator Elevators, escalators
Pyramid Masonry Exterior brick and cast stone
East Coast Glass Aluminum and glass work, doors and hardware
Crown Corr Metal panels, siding and architectural louvers
AD Willis Membrane roofing
Beck Steel Metal stairs, initial miscellaneous steel
Stafford-Smith Inc. Food service equipment
Mechanical Systems Time and materials mechanical, plumbing rough-in
Port City Electric Time and materials electrical
Secure Termite & Pest Control Soil poisoning (termite control)
Shields Inc. Interior stud framing, drywall; exte-rior framing and sheating
Acoustic Engineering Co. of Florida Acoustic ceilings, baffles/wall panels and spec. ceilings
ISEC Inc. General trades: Toilet partitions, cubicle curtains, metal lockers, etc.
R. Dickerson & Associates Inc. Spray fireproofing
Eugenio Painting Co. Painting and wall coverings intumescent paint
Pyramid Masonry Interior masonry
Dillon Stone Corp. Ceramic tile, granite countertops, terrazzo, epoxy flooring
The Invironmentalists Carpet, VCT and access flooring
Creative Cabinets Systems Millwork, casework and architectural woodwork
Beck Steel Final miscellaneous steel, ornamental metals and railings
Maxson and Associates Inc. Overhead doors, coiling grilles and side coiling grilles
TSG Industries Inc. Interior glass and glazing
Irwin Seating Co. Arena seating
Port City Electric Electrical — power, lighting, fire alarm system
The Whitlock Group Sound system (cabling and equipment)
Ford Audio-Video Systems Inc. Broadcast and DTV system (cabling only)
William R. Nash T/U mechanical, HVAC, plumbing
Cam-Ful Industries Inc. Fire protection piping and systems
Lewis Cimco Refrigeration Ice floor system, dasher board system and ice floor accessories
Athletic and Performance Rigging House reduction curtains, blackout curtains
Jones Grading & Fencing Inc. Site utilities
Evan Corp. Fall protection
Johnson Controls Inc. Integrated systems (fire alarm, security, building controls), telecomm
Munoz Contracting LLC General works
Duncan Video Broadcast equipment
Jones Signage Wayfinding signage and graphics
Klingman Williams Furniture, furnishings and equipment
Daktronics Scoreboard and speaker winch rigging
Southern Flooring Athletic wood flooring systems (practice gym)
Daktronics Scoreboard
Valley Crest Landscape Development Inc. Landscaping/plantings, hardscape/streetscape and site furnishings
David Allen Co. Terrazzo flooring installation
Source: Hunt Construction Group

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