Bobcats unveil $265M downtown Charlotte arena

Updated: October 19, 2005, 6:35 PM ET
Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After more than five years of political angst, Charlotte is ready to take the wrapper off a $265 million downtown arena that will be home to the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.

And the officials who helped design the building believe they have a winner.

Bobcat Stadium
AP Photo/Nell RedmondThe final touches were being made to the new Charlotte Bobcats Arena on Wednesday in preparation for its grand opening.
"I think this building, not only from a budget standpoint but also from an aesthetic standpoint, is the best [arena] in the country," building chief operating officer Barry Silberman said Wednesday as the media toured the arena two blocks from the center of downtown Charlotte.

Mayor Pat McCrory and Bobcats owner Bob Johnson are to officially open Charlotte Bobcats Arena at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday. The Rolling Stones headline the first arena event Friday, while the Bobcats open their home schedule Nov. 5 against the Boston Celtics.

The city acquired land and paid for construction of the building, which is being operated by the team.

The 19,000-seat arena replaces the suburban Charlotte Coliseum, which opened in 1988 for the NBA's Charlotte Hornets but was quickly made obsolete by a new generation of sports arenas outfitted with luxury suites and other upscale amenities. The Hornets moved to New Orleans in 2002, one year after voters rejected a proposal to use public money to pay for a downtown arena and other center-city projects.

When the city agreed to build the arena anyway, the NBA granted Charlotte another franchise, the Bobcats. The team played its first season last year at the Coliseum, averaging 14,432 fans.

The tepid response has been attributed in part to residual anger over the arena controversy. Published reports in recent weeks have said the team is struggling to sell tickets.

Bobcats officials won't discuss ticket sales, but have said they believe word of mouth will help fill the stands after the arena opens.

With a brick, glass and steel exterior, the building aims to evoke both Charlotte's roots in the industrial South and the present-day banking towers that dominate the city's skyline.

"We were not looking for an icon building, but for one that was beautiful, hopefully, and fit in with the city, " said architect Doug Brown of the Kansas City, Mo., firm of Ellerbe Becket.

Inside, allusions to Charlotte and the Carolinas are thick. A massive mural inside the building's main entrance plaza off Trade Street looks at the history of basketball in the Piedmont; artwork on the upper concourse surveys Charlotte's history from the 18th century to the present. The "Pit Stop BBQ" stand alludes to the region's ties to stock-car racing, while a "Flight Deck" food and beverage area pays homage to the Wright Brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk.

Two levels of luxury suites ring the lower bowl of the arena. A fine-dining restaurant at the suite level along one baseline will allow patrons to eat dinner while they watch a game or a concert.

Gone are the glass windows that often front luxury suites, with the seats pushed onto terraces in front of the main suite space. The aim was to "make the suite fans part of the crowd," Ellerbe Becket architect Susan Fulton said.

The arena also has outdoor terrace with skyline views, and the upper concourse also has an elevated stage for musical performances and a play space for kids.

Bobcats players weren't forgotten, either. The team's practice court is part of the arena complex and the players-only area includes a theater with a 60-inch plasma screen, a lounge, a state-of-the-art hydrotherapy center and a soothingly lit locker room.

A dominant feature is the massive scoreboard. Four 16-by-28-foot LED video screens hang over center court, topped by a wraparound three-dimensional sculpture of the Charlotte skyline.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press