Fans chat during warmups before a Charlotte Hornets game at their table, part of the Flight Deck VIP Experience at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, N.C. (Don Muret / Staff)
The Charlotte Hornets have reconfigured the sit-down restaurant at Spectrum Center into a destination that now gives a small portion of diners views to the game.
The 250-seat space, rebranded as the Flight Deck, is situated at stage end on the Founders Level, which is the lower of two suite levels at the 13-year-old arena.
The retrofit includes the Flight Deck VIP Experience, encompassing 24 seats packaged for single games at the front edge of the restaurant facing the seating bowl. To create the new seats and views, the Hornets removed a half-wall that separated the restaurant from the seating bowl and eliminated one row of 28 ledge seats that came with counter space, said Donna Julian, Spectrum Center’s senior vice president of arena and event operations and general manager.
The new seats are sold in groups of four, designed with both high-top chairs and lounge style seating, plus table space. For most games, the seats sell for $250 to $550 a game per person, depending on the opponent. Food and drink is a separate fee and must be purchased as part of the package. The cost is $32, $65 and $90 a person and includes an option without alcohol.
The Flight Deck VIP seats go up in price to $750 and $650 a person for the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors games, respectively, Hornets spokesman Mike Cristaldi said.
At the second home game of the regular season, against the Chicago Bulls, three of the six VIP tables were occupied. For that game, the ticket price was $250 a person.
Those ticket prices may seem high for one of the NBA’s smaller markets, especially for midlevel seats behind the basket. Early in the season, though, the Flight Deck VIP Experience is selling well, Cristaldi said. He did not provide sales numbers.
Overall, it’s a big improvement for the restaurant, which was cut off from the game action under the original design. Newer arenas such as Amway Center in Orlando have restaurants with tiered seating at the edge of the bowl with views to the game for all diners.
In Charlotte, the Hornets plan to experiment with multiple food and drink packages for the Flight Deck VIP seats as they get a better feel for what those customers prefer, Julian said.
“These little experiences here give us 24 seats and we have the ability to expand this concept,” she said. “It’s a new product we didn’t have before, comfortable and engaging. We’re seeing more of that in NBA buildings. People are looking for different kinds of engagement.”
The bulk of the 10,500-square-foot restaurant, exclusive to suite holders and club seat patrons, remains set back from the bowl with no views to the court. The main dining space and bar has undergone a refresh for the first time since the arena opened in 2005. The upgrades cover multiple televisions, new furniture, a large projection screen above the buffet table and new teal lighting, the Hornets’ primary color.
The pregame buffet, at a cost of $40 person, remains the same price as previous years. Diners also have the option of buying appetizers from the bar menu, priced from $10 to $18, said Jason Goodnite, assistant director of operation for Levy, the Hornets’ concessionaire. The bar remains open one hour after the game ends, Goodnite said.
“The beauty of it is we have a lot of flexibility in the configuration, so we can go a little higher than [250 people] and do some different things,” Julian said. “We can cut it off into smaller spaces. We couldn’t move things around with the old furniture, which we had since the building opened. Designers design for a look, but you also have to design for operational purposes.”
At the back of the restaurant, there is now a private meeting room separated by glass doors that the Hornets can use internally and book for corporate events, Julian said.
As part of the retrofit, the Hornets added a flight of stairs connecting the restaurant to the upper suite level. Previously, suite patrons had to take an elevator down to the restaurant.
Local architect LS3P redesigned the Flight Deck in conjunction with AECOM, the Hornets’ architect of record, and Rodgers Builders, a local contractor.
The restaurant redo is the final phase of $34 million in publicly funded arena renovations over the past three years. Last year, the Hornets opened their new 4,200-square-foot team store in Spectrum Center’s old ticket office. The arena’s new ticket office moved to the old retail location tucked in a corner at street level on the back side of the building.
Two years ago, the Hornets replaced their center-hung videoboard with a new $7 million board produced by Prismview, a Samsung company. Prismview manufactured a new center-hung for State Farm Center as part of the Atlanta Hawks’ $193 million arena transformation. The vendor has also made center-hungs for the San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz.
Future upgrades could potentially include a new higher-end floor surface to replace bare concrete on the lower and upper concourses. At this point, nothing is confirmed, Julian said.
“We’re working on it,” she said. “Our wish list is always based on improving the fan experience. We’ll take a look at the concourse, look at some flooring. It’s almost Christmas.”