EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. As the Carolina Panthers finish a plan to renovate Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte leaders got a tour Wednesday of what the team may be aiming for: The new $1.6 billion MetLife Stadium that houses the NFLs Giants and Jets.
The tour was organized by the Charlotte Chamber as part of its three-day inter-city visit to New York, and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson made the trip to speak briefly to attendees. The team hasnt formally asked the city of Charlotte for financial help, but a number of city leaders believe they will be asked to help pay for the renovations of the 16-year-old stadium.
The City Council voted in closed session last month for city staff members to meet with the Panthers, and Mayor Anthony Foxx has invited Richardson to discuss his stadium upfit plans.
The team has released only a few details about what the renovation might entail. But Wednesdays tour was an eye-opener for some council members, who were exposed to what is now considered state-of-the-art in pro football: Massive video boards. Escalators that whisk fans to the upper bowl. Private clubs that resemble a five-star hotel, and one that allows fans to walk on the field, behind the players benches.
I shouldnt say Im surprised, but Im impressed, said John Autry, one of six City Council members who made the trip.
Autry who supported an $8 million city subsidy for a new baseball stadium uptown said he didnt know whether he would support the Panthers.
Council member David Howard said the tour was helpful to see how buildings change.
Having the Panthers in Charlotte is important, Howard said. How can anyone visit this place and not be impressed?
MetLife Stadium, built in 2010, is considered the most modern and luxurious in the NFL, along with the new stadium for the Dallas Cowboys. The cost of MetLife Stadium was split between the Giants and the Jets.
At the start of the two-hour tour, the Charlotte visitors met for 30 minutes with Richardson, who flew in from Charlotte. He was joined by Giants co-owner John Mara, who talked about how the stadium was built and funded, according to council members.
The Giants didnt want the media to attend that meeting, which took place in the Toyota Club Level an on-field club that allows patrons to walk behind the players bench. Richardson wasnt available for comment.
Natalie English of the Chamber said its common for inter-city visits to tour professional sports stadiums because thats an important part of Charlotte.
The Panthers have hired the Kansas City-based architect-design firm Populous to conduct a long-range study of the teams stadium, which was built mostly with private money from the team.
Team president Danny Morrison who didnt attend the New York trip said earlier he expects the study to be finished by the end of the year.
In an interview with the Observer earlier this year, Morrison said Richardson wants to install escalators to make it easier for fans to reach the upper bowl. He also said its important for the team to improve its video boards and ribbon boards, which are used for advertising.
MetLife Stadium had those amenities, plus more.
The stadium has four large video boards built in the corners of the stadium, while the Panthers video boards are on top of the stadium, behind the end zones.
MetLife Stadium is one of the leagues largest, with nearly 83,000 seats. The Panthers, however, havent indicated they want a stadium expansion.
Council members were most impressed, however, by numerous club areas that cater to New York City high rollers.
Club areas are critical to NFL teams, which keep much of the revenue they produce from their stadiums. (Television revenue is generally split equally among all 32 NFL teams.)
A stadium representative told the Charlotte visitors that the ceilings at the Lexus Club are more than three stories high so you always have that sense of luxury.
The tour also showed off the stadiums Commissioners Suites, one of its most exclusive areas. A common dining area was decorated with wood and a natural-gas fire flickered. The suites had private office space and seats near or around midfield.
Council member Michael Barnes said he was stunned at how nice the suites are. This gives me a sense of whats possible, said Barnes, who voted against the baseball stadium subsidy. But it doesnt change my view on using public money.
Barnes said the Panthers need a very compelling story to get public money.
Though MetLife Stadium was built with private money, its common in the NFL for taxpayers to pick up half or even the entire cost of new stadiums.
The Kansas City Chiefs recently completed a $375 million renovation of the teams stadium, which was built in the early 1970s. City officials dont believe a Bank of America Stadium renovation would cost nearly that much.
Council members Barnes, Howard and Autry attended the New York trip, along with Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon, LaWana Mayfield and Patsy Kinsey. Foxx also attended, along with some Mecklenburg County commissioners.
The Chamber trip cost $3,095 per person. The city picked up the tab for its council members, along with at least three staff members.