SBJ/February 18-24, 2013/Facilities

Panthers, Populous take refurb cues from K.C.

The Carolina Panthers are using Arrowhead Stadium’s face-lift as the primary model for proposed upgrades to Bank of America Stadium.

Arrowhead is 24 years older than the Panthers’ home, but both venues have the infrastructure in place to accommodate a major retrofit without demolishing big chunks of the building, said Kelly Kerns, a principal and senior architect at Kansas City-based sports design firm Populous. Kerns worked on the $375 million makeover of the Chiefs’ facility before developing a 10-year stadium master plan for the Panthers.

Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Populous won the competition to develop the master plan in October 2011 and has shared ideas with the Panthers on what it did to improve Arrowhead and other NFL stadiums. A tour of Arrowhead in December during the Panthers’ road trip to Kansas City gave Carolina officials a better idea of what could be done to renovate Bank of America Stadium, Kerns said.

In Charlotte, the big differences are the wider concourses and spacious club lounges. A big piece of Arrowhead’s retrofit revolved around creating sideline clubs for a stadium that did
not have those large indoor spaces when it opened in 1972.

“There is not as much focus on premium space upgrades,” Kerns said. “We’re not having to make the structural changes that Arrowhead did.” As a result, the $297 million in total costs for the Panthers’ project, a number including a new indoor practice facility, is less than the $405 million it took to improve Arrowhead and expand the Chiefs’ practice facility down the street, Panthers President Danny Morrison
A spot to honor team history and end zone video boards are Arrowhead improvements also in the Panthers’ plans.
Photos: DAVE KAUP (2)
said.

Financing is pending approval of public money to pay for about $200 million of project costs. The Panthers, who have committed to paying $62.5 million for upgrades, plan to start the improvements after the 2013 season by installing 10 escalators inside the stadium gates, Morrison said.

The Panthers want to keep their stadium’s classic seating bowl design intact, as well as the framework of both end zone scoreboards. The Chiefs did the same thing and did not touch Arrowhead’s seating bowl, widely recognized for having the best sight lines in the NFL.

In the end zones, Arrowhead’s signature oval-shaped scoreboard structures remained in place with an upgrade to full-screen video. The Panthers’ end zone boards have two of the smallest video screen footprints in the NFL, and the team intends to go full screen to catch up with other facilities.

Another common thread is a destination showcasing the Panthers’ history, said Morrison, who toured Arrowhead, now home to a Chiefs Hall of Honor.

The new escalators will make it easier for season-ticket holders to reach the upper parts of the stadium, which Morrison said is a chief concern for Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. Improving crowd flow through the stadium gates and technology upgrades are also high on the list.

Those adjustments address the fan experience. There are also opportunities for the Panthers to generate new revenue by selling sponsorships of gate entrances similar to what the Chiefs did by signing Arrowhead deals with Sprint and Hy-Vee, a regional supermarket chain, Kerns said. The branding for those gates, a concept also under consideration for the renovation of Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, another Populous project Kerns is working on, could include video displays and live entertainment inside and outside those entrances, he said.

At this point, marketing the stadium gates is lower on the Panthers’ list of priorities, Morrison said.

The construction of two roof terraces on the 500 level, the stadium’s upper deck, is another concept further down the list. The design of those two 12,000-square-foot fan decks, situated above concession stands, would take up concourse space in the corners on the stadium’s east side and provide views into downtown Charlotte. The terraces, with no views to the field, would function as entertainment spaces with bars, giving the Panthers flexibility to create a destination for all fans or create a premium experience with membership fees, Kerns said.

The roof terraces are not a feature at Arrowhead Stadium but are comparable to the fan ramps in the corners at Heinz Field and Lincoln Financial Field, two stadiums built in the early 2000s for the Steelers and Eagles.

“We’re looking for ways to create communal spaces with views to the city where fans can hang out and not feel removed from the game,” Kerns said.

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