CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Carolina Panthers president Danny Morrison said the team plans to begin renovations on its 16-year-old stadium immediately after the 2013 NFL season and estimates the project could take two years to complete.
The master plan calls for between $261 million and $297 million in upgrades, according to Morrison.
Charlotte's City Council is backing a proposal to give the Panthers nearly $144 million from a food and beverage tax increase to pay for stadium upgrades and the team is seeking more than $60 million in state funds.
Morrison said the goal of Panthers owner Jerry Richardson has been to improve the experience for all 74,000 fans, not just those in the luxury suites.
"He gave us directions that the majority of plans need to be for 74,000 fans, not just premium seating," Morrison said. "That list we've came up with affects all 74,000 fans. We also wanted to retain our classic designed stadium in a park but also bring it to the forefront with modern technology."
The primary objectives include installing three escalators to reach the upper level, new video and ribbon boards and an improved sound system, as well as upgrading technology and stadium infrastructure and improving access to the stadium through enhanced entry gates.
Some of the other potential upgrades down the road include adding a roof terrace, a team history area, field club and an indoor practice facility.
Morrison emphasized the plan is fluid and could undergo changes along the way.
"There are some things you might end up not doing," Morrison said. "And there could be something which surfaces with technology we don't even know about."
Morrison said there are five priorities in the renovation:
— Installing three escalators that reach the upper level.
"If you were 55 years old when you bought a permanent seat license you are over 70 now, so that's a big deal to us," Morrison said. "We'll still maintain the ramps, but now fans would be able to take the escalators up."
— Upgrading video and sound, including two new, larger video boards, two ribbon boards, and a new sound system will help the Panthers keep up with other NFL venues at an estimated cost of $59 million.
— Installing new technology upgrades, including creating a new fiber backbone, cabling, WiFi, DAS and an IPTV distribution system.
"When people go to a game they're expecting more stats to keep up with fantasy football," Morrison said.
— Renovating the infrastructure of the stadium itself, which Morrison draws the comparison to maintaining your existing home. That includes upgrading the HVAC system, the playing field, concrete and seats.
— And, improving the entrance ways to allow easier access to the stadium. Since the team installed a new "wanding" process to screen fans entering the stadium it has slowed down the ability to get inside and created longer waiting lines outside.
"We have to have a more efficient system," Morrison said.
The Panthers stadium is middle-aged by NFL standards.
That's why the Panthers brought in four outside consulting firms in the summer of 2011 to analyze they stadium and determine its overall functional ability and the health of the stadium
He said they all found the "bones" of the stadium to be in great shape.
At that point it was clear the team would begin the process of upgrading the current stadium rather than building a new one.
Since the stadium opened in 1996, 25 other NFL stadiums have been built over undergone major renovations and three other cities — San Francisco, Minnesota and Atlanta — are contemplating new stadiums.
Populous, the company formerly known as HOK Sports, built the stadium in the mid-90s and was also hired to handle the renovations.
"It made sense because they built it," Morrison said.
Morrison said the Panthers would love to host a Super Bowl and the new upgrades would certainly help bring it up to par with some of the best stadium in the league.
The problem has always been an issue of hotel space in Charlotte.
As a general rule, a Super Bowl host city is required by the NFL to have 25,000 hotel rooms available within an hour of the stadium.
However, according to business research strategist Heath Dillard of the Charlotte Region Visitors Bureau there are 24,010 rooms in Mecklenburg County alone and an additional 7,600 rooms in the surrounding six-county area.
The problem is the there are only 4,100 rooms within walking distance to downtown, according to the CRVA. That could prove to be a deterrent to the NFL since it typically prefers to keep people in a cluster of larger downtown hotels.
"I think anybody in the NFL would love to host a Super Bowl," Morrison said. "One of the reasons Mr. Richardson built it for 74,000 people is so it would have the capacity to host a Super Bowl. Originally stadium was going to be for 65,000 but he expanded it in case we were ever to host a Super Bowl."