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Volume 21 No. 26
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Changes already planned for soon-to-open college stadium

Don Muret
The architects designing a new football stadium for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte had to pay special attention while planning a 15,000-seat facility with the ability to expand to 40,000 seats.

The school kicks off its football program next year as an independent in the Football Championship Subdivision but will move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2015 as a member of Conference USA.

For DLR Group, a national sports architect that teamed with local firm Jenkins Peer Architects to design the UNC Charlotte stadium, the program’s plan to quickly move up the ladder meant designing a venue with enough concourse space to accommodate more seats, concessions and restroom buildings in future years. As a result, the east side concourse extends about 100 feet from the back of the seating bowl to the existing food stands and restrooms, much wider than the typical concourse at an NFL stadium, said Don Barnum, a principal at DLR Group.

On the west side, there is flexibility to add two more levels to the press box and hospitality building. The current setup has one floor containing the 32-seat chancellor’s box, coaches’ booths and rooms for game operations and working press.

In the initial design, there are no suites. Expansion could convert the existing press box/hospitality facility into a dedicated suite level with a second tier of seats built above the original structure.

UNC Charlotte’s stadium will open in August with 15,000 seats; plans to expand to 40,000 seats (left) are already in place.
Media would be moved to a third floor of a new tower supporting the structure, Barnum said. Building long-term suites would create skyboxes 22 rows from the field, he said.

“It’s the advantage of doing a smaller stadium design now,” Barnum said. UNC Charlotte, he said, is “really excited about getting more hospitality in the future to take up this space. I imagine the demand for that will come pretty quickly because there really isn’t anything for sale now.”

DLR’s initial study for the university showed the possibility of adding 24 suites in the press box/hospitality building extending to both goal lines, said DLR Group’s Greg Garlock, Barnum’s partner on the project. “We could do more or less depending on need,” Garlock said.

As it stands now, there are three sections of 1,412 donor chairback seats between the 30-yard lines on the west side. Those seats are tied to $2,500 seat licenses. Benches with seat backs extending from the 30-yard lines to the end zones on the west side carry $1,000 seat licenses.

As of last week, UNC Charlotte had 662 seat licenses remaining to sell among the 5,000 originally put up for sale, said Judy Rose, the school’s athletic director.

The school has a proposal in front of a potential sponsor for corporate naming rights to the stadium, “but we are not able to reveal the particulars at this time,” Rose said. UNC Charlotte’s asking price is $5 million over 13 years, she said.

In November 2011, the school named the playing surface McColl-Richardson Field after receiving financial contributions from Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and Hugh McColl, former CEO of Bank of America.

The 49ers play their first home football game Aug. 31 against Campbell.

In other college projects, DLR Group recently won the deal to complete a feasibility study tied to improving the fan experience at the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Stadium, a 50-year-old building in Colorado Springs, Colo. The firm also is designing upgrades to the University of Southern California’s Heritage Hall, a $24 million project covering an expanded hall of fame and a sports performance lab, and developing a new 41,000-square-foot basketball practice facility at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., where DLR has its headquarters.

In Lincoln, Neb., DLR Group is putting the finishing touches on the design of Pinnacle Bank Arena, the new $181 million home of University of Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball. The 16,000-seat arena opens in September.

> BEAR DOWN: The Chicago Bears, in conjunction with the Chicago Park District, the owner of Soldier Field, plan to issue a proposal in the coming weeks to run the food service at the NFL stadium, said Bears spokesman Scott Hagel.

For Delaware North Sportservice, the Bears’ food and retail provider, it will be one of the vendor’s first major league deals in play after the company named John Wentzell president of Sportservice.

Wentzell, a veteran arena manager and former CEO of TD Garden in Boston, takes over for Rick Abramson, president of Sportservice since 2004.

Abramson has been named president of Delaware North’s parks and resorts division and executive chair of its Australia and Asia operations. Both moves will take effect Jan. 1. Abramson said he would be involved in Sportservice’s bid to retain the Bears’ business.

In Chicago, the Bears have hired consultant Chris Bigelow to represent the team in the selection of a stadium food vendor. The park district, through stadium manager SMG, will have its own consultant representing its interests, Hagel said.

Sportservice is in its 10th season of operating food and retail at Soldier Field.

The proposal will not include the stadium’s merchandise agreement because Sportservice’s retail deal extends beyond this season, Hagel said.

Don Muret can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @breakground.