Renovate Smith Center or Build New Arena?

The athletics department is considering either renovating the 38-year-old Dean E. Smith Center or building a new arena, plans that would include luxury suites and premium seating, more amenities and expanded support for the basketball programs.

Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham has commissioned a committee that includes representatives from the men’s and women’s basketball staffs, the Board of Trustees and the Rams Club to explore the options, according to Inside Carolina.

The group plans to consider sites on- and off-campus for a new arena, the possibility of the men’s and women’s teams using the same facility and the option of the arena hosting nonbasketball events such as concerts.

Currently, the women’s team plays in Carmichael Auditorium, which opened in 1965. The last concert held at the Smith Center was Boyz II Men in 2008.

“In order to continue our championship success, we are investigating and analyzing multiple options for the arena — including renovating the Smith Center, keeping the building as-is, and building new,” Carolina Athletics said in a statement. “Our goal is to create the best experience possible for Tar Heel student-athletes and fans while potentially generating more revenue for the Department and enhancing the University community.”

In 2013, UNC drew up concepts that included a renovated Smith Center as well as a new arena on the site of the Bowles parking lot next to the Smith Center. The plan called for a 20 to 25 percent reduction in seating (up to approximately 5,400 seats) to accommodate luxury suites and premium seating.

The plan was put on hold so the University could invest in an Olympic sports project that funded the construction of Karen Shelton Stadium, Dorrance Field, the Carolina Track and Field Complex and the Bill Koman Indoor Practice Facility.

The Smith Center was last renovated in 2016, which included constructing separate locker rooms for players and coaches, new showers and an updated players’ lounge.

Some Carolina alumni and UNC basketball fans aren’t embracing the idea of a new arena that would reduce seating for games, according to a Facebook request by the Review asking alumni whether they think the Smith Center should be renovated or replaced. Overwhelmingly, responses favored renovations.

“Student seats bring the energy,” said Jennifer Weber ’94 of Westfield, Indiana. “I prefer keeping the Dean Dome, but if renovating, don’t do it at the expense of students attending. Moving the crowd further away from the energetic student body would destroy the atmosphere

“Renovate. Most buildings show wear & tear after 38 years,” said Lorré Bonner ’85 (’88 BSPHR) of High Point.

Nigel Stammes ’14 of Durham said, “Renovate. You can let it look like an amazing new building. Just look in Durham at the county office building as well as their public library. Can be nicely updated on the outside and inside while maintaining Carolina history.”

“Renovate. The Dean Dome is a huge part of our Carolina history! I love it the way it is though,” said Holly Sweeney ’10 of Georgetown, Massachusetts.

Some prefer a new arena. “Start from scratch and build the best,” said Brendan Bailey ’87 of Apex. “It will be impossible to add suites with private access and amenities. Concourses should be wide and bright with lots of UNC branding, digital signage, TVs, huge banners, large team store, a few sports bars, and other amenities.”

Some just weren’t sure. “I love the Dean Dome and have ever since I set foot on campus as a freshman in 1987,” said Michael Levy ’91 of Chapel Hill. “But the concourse is so narrow and the bathrooms are too small/few that it’s a terrible building when you’re not actually in your seat. I’m not sure how feasible it is to improve the arena within its current footprint, but that should be a priority if it’s renovated. If a new building is erected, keeping the arena on campus should be the priority.”

Board of Trustees Chairman John Preyer ’90 told Carolina Insider, “There is obviously a strong constituency that would like to see the current location stay the same, but what is crystal clear is that we need more suites and a greater fan experience leading up to the game and a greater utilization of our resources in a way that benefits the game day and fan experience.”

— Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23

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