SKY HIGH: The skyline patio, shown here in an HOK rendering, is among the upgrades tied to a master plan for upgrading Bank of America Stadium, which opened in 1996. (Courtesy HOK)

Big chunk of money to cover structural issues

The Carolina Panthers released renderings this week of a proposed renovation of Bank of America Stadium that could ultimately surpass $1 billion, which in this day and age, is the going rate for NFL venue reconstruction.

The images were produced by HOK, the same architect tied to Everbank Stadium’s $1.4 billion transformation in Jacksonville, Florida. The design firm has worked for the Panthers for the past two years to form a master plan for the 28-year-old facility in uptown Charlotte.

HOK has yet to sign a deal with Tepper Sports and Entertainment, owner of Bank of America Stadium, the Panthers and Major League Soccer’s Charlotte FC, to officially design the upgrades, said Nate Appleman, principal-in-charge of the project.

Initial budget estimates have the city of Charlotte contributing $650 million to the project, with the Panthers pitching in $150 million, plus cost overruns.

The Panthers could also potentially invest $421 million over the life of a new 20-year non-relocation agreement between the team and the city. More public approvals are required before the project can officially start. The Panthers hope to complete the overall improvements by the 2029 season.

A big chunk of funding will go toward updating aging infrastructure systems such as HVAC, electrical, plumbing and telecommunication. Appleman said the first step for HOK was to evaluate a study by structural engineer Walter P Moore to evaluate the condition of the stadium. In that respect, it’s similar to the upgrades to Everbank Stadium, where parts of the infrastructure date to the late 1920s.

In Charlotte, HOK’s five renderings released on Monday showcase a makeover of the stadium’s exterior with a a giant video screen attached to the facade; a standing room skyline patio in the upper deck; concourse renovations with new windows providing views to outside the building; and a plaza on the South Lawn for pregame activities with fixed concession stands facing the lawn.

“The location is wonderful, but it’s a bit of an introverted building as you’re walking around it from the inside,” Appleman said. “One of the things we’re studying is to open it up and create more transparency, now that this building is hosting up to 40 events a year with NFL, MLS and concerts. It has a much more prominent influence on the downtown landscape.”

SOUTHERN CHARM: Bank of America Stadium’s South Lawn, shown in a rendering, would be transformed into an engaging public space as part of the renovations. (Courtesy HOK)

The skyline patio, proposed to overlook the corner of Mint and Graham streets on the stadium’s northwest side, ¬†would open up with views to the city and future development, he said.

It would also reduce seat count to a certain extent for the Panthers, who have seen some attrition in the 500 level under owner David Tepper, who purchased the ¬†team in July 2018. The Panthers haven’t made the playoffs since the 2017 season.

The skyline patio would help resolve that issue with general admission hangouts in lieu of reserved seats, but downsizing the 75,000-seat stadium is not something the Panthers are looking to do specifically, Appleman said.

“We wanted to be very mindful of keeping that seat count (intact) because the Panthers feel it’s appropriately sized for the city,” he said. “They did look at areas that could be transformed into something that may have a little higher demand and be more of an exciting experience. The modern fan likes to be mobile; it’s not just about having a chair, and that’s part of the thinking.”

In addition, there are opportunities to build more premium seats, specifically loge boxes, pending the results of market research. Those mid-priced hybrid products would put a different take on the loges currently tucked in the stadium’s corners, Appleman said.

Should financing be approved and the project moves forward, the stadium will remain open for business. The phased work would most likely start in the upper deck in the football offseason, which makes the most sense because it’s closed for most MLS matches, Appleman said. The soccer season typically starts in March and runs through October.

“It’s very much a dual interpretation of what a stadium should be,” Appleman said, referring to accommodating NFL and MLS interests. “We have to think about where the supporters section is (in the east end zone) and things that you may or may not do because of that location. We have to think about the march to the match. There are occasions where Charlotte FC will fill the upper deck, but the majority of MLS crowds is counted for in the lower bowl.”

The proposed improvements build upon The Gallery, a series of 12 bunker suites behind the west end zone, and The Vault, the tunnel club built for MLS. Both premium retrofits were built over the past five years.

Prior to the pandemic, Bank of America Stadium underwent a $175 million renovation, which included building new escalators, revamping concessions and upgrading suites and club lounges.

Separately, HOK has a deal in place to plan the Panthers’ new practice facility next to the stadium that would replace the old practice bubble, where the team has practiced for many years. The Panthers and the city are currently going through the process of rezoning the property before construction can begin.