UNC, Architects Looking at Future of Smith Center

Carmichael Auditorium served the men’s basketball team for 20 years. The Dean E. Smith Center is now 27 and has some acknowledged shortcomings, such as a single concourse and no private suites, so naturally renovation-or-replacement talk comes up regularly.

That’s been stepped up a notch — the athletics department has engaged 360 Architecture, a Kansas City-based firm, in early stage talks about the arena.

“We have a 27-year-old facility that I think we need to continue to invest in if we’re going to stay in the forefront of college basketball,” Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham said in an interview, and he rattled off a list of rivals with newer facilities.

But Cunningham cautioned that the talks are preliminary and crucial details have yet to be hashed out. He said UNC and the firm have begun “the discussion of concepts and ideas. But it’s too early to have anything specific.”

Funding likely would come from private and in-house sources, such as donations and athletics department revenue; the Smith Center was funded entirely with private money. Cunningham said officials hope to have a better idea of what is possible from a design and financing standpoint in six to 12 months.

“We’re just trying to collect as much information as we can to see how we can continue to keep the program where it is,” he said.

Cunningham spoke on the morning after Carolina beat top-ranked Michigan State in December. He toured MSU’s Breslin Center and the University of Michigan’s Crisler Center, the latter of which wrapped up a $52 million facelift in 2012. Cunningham said both facilities had features he liked.

It took six years, 2,362 donors and more than $34 million to build the Smith Center, which opened in 1986. The arena has undergone a series of renovations since its inception. In recent years, those include a standing section for students; high-resolution video boards; replacement seats; and office, training and weight room expansions.

Cunningham said future renovations could include the installation of luxury seating, clubs, suites or some combination thereof. Officials also are looking at adding handrails in the aisles.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the congestion in the concourse.

Renovations are not the only option on the table.

“If the cost of renovation is so high, at some point it makes sense to build new,” Cunningham said. “We need to explore that.”

Whatever route the University decides to take, Cunningham said he does not anticipate construction disrupting a basketball season.

“We don’t want to play somewhere else,” he said. “We need to have [the Smith Center] available to play through the season. You can do it. It just takes a little longer.”

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