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Will Charlotte try to one-up Atlanta’s glitzy NBA arena?

The city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Hawks basketball team are planning a nearly $200 million renovation of Phillips Arena. One of the features includes a courtside bar (shown behind the basketball goal).
The city of Atlanta and the Atlanta Hawks basketball team are planning a nearly $200 million renovation of Phillips Arena. One of the features includes a courtside bar (shown behind the basketball goal). Atlanta Hawks

In Atlanta, Hawks’ fans will have a full view of games while getting their hair cut in a barber shop the team is adding to its downtown arena. For those less interested in watching the game, a Topgolf simulator suite is being installed in the building, too. A court-level bar and club will entertain those who want to be closer to the action.

Can you imagine these amenities in Charlotte’s uptown NBA arena?

Three years after Charlotte City Council agreed to spend nearly $28 million on improvements to the Spectrum Center, the Charlotte Hornets and the city are scheduled to start haggling in 2019 over a second round of renovations, which would like cost many more millions.

The city’s agreement with the Hornets calls for the uptown arena to be kept up to an ever-evolving “NBA standard,” also to match improvements that have been made at half of NBA arenas.

The term “NBA standard,” however, is subjective. But the Atlanta Hawks announced this week their team and the city will spend $192 million in upgrades for their downtown arena, marking the second-largest renovation project in NBA history.

The proposed renovations of Phillips Arena – which opened in 1999 – are likely to set the new standard in luxury for NBA arenas. It begs the question: Will Charlotte try to one-up Atlanta?

“Keeping up with the Jones’ in terms of player amenities at-venue, and constantly improving the game-day experience for fans, especially those for whom attending the game itself is but one part of the experience, has steadily grown in importance,” said David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California's Marshall Sports Business Institute.

Investing more to make the uptown arena the crème de la crème of NBA facilities could impact negotiations between the Hornets and the city if the team seeks the new bells and whistles that its division-rivals will soon have.

Elsewhere in the NBA, other teams are opting for the latest and greatest at their arenas, too.

The Sacramento Kings, for instance, last year opened their new state-of-the-art arena downtown. The NBA’s first directly solar-powered facility that also features a slew of smart technology, Golden 1 Center boasts an “indoor-outdoor” feel created by five six-story tall glass doors at the front of the building, allowing natural light to stream in.

The Golden State Warriors earlier this year broke ground on the $1 billion Chase Center in downtown San Francisco. Among other fancy features, the new privately funded arena will have enhanced Internet bandwidth, fine dining and a 35,000-foot public plaza outside.

The Hornets declined to comment on future upgrades to the Spectrum Center.

That’s in large part because the current round of renovations is still underway. The team is currently moving the box office to a street-level spot on Trade Street, and relocating the fan shop from the ground level into a larger, more prominent space inside the building.

“We’ll be looking at a negotiation in 2019,” said Ron Kimble, who works for the city overseeing some economic development projects. “We both have an interest in making sure we both have a top-notch arena. We want it to be a successful arena from an operations stand point. We have a mutual interest in making sure our arena stays competitive.”

Kimble told City Council Monday that the city wouldn’t be able to spend the full $43.5 million requested by Marcus Smith of Speedway Motorsports on a new Major League Soccer stadium. The city could only afford $30 million, in part because the city’s hospitality taxes would be needed for other purposes, including the second phase of the Hornets’ arena upgrades.

Kimble said he hadn’t studied the planned Phillips arena improvements.

Arena opened in 2005

The city of Charlotte paid for and owns the $265 million uptown arena, which opened in 2005. The Hornets manage it and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, a public organization, helps maintain it. It’s been used to host non-NBA events over the years as well, including parts of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The arena will also host the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.

The city’s agreement with the Hornets calls for the city to make capital improvements that are in more than half of the NBA’s arenas, with some exceptions.

The first round of improvements from 2014 included improvements to restaurants and bathrooms, adding lower bowl seats, improving lighting and replacing the score board.

The deal also called for the city and the Hornets to each spend $600,000 a year for ten years for a maintenance fund.

“Among the keys to delivering these compelling venues is determining how best to pay for them,” said Carter, the USC professor.

“While owners will surely be pressed to pay for for the upgrades, the local municipalities routinely find themselves on the hook for a sizable portion of the costs. In short, Charlotte will only benefit long term from a lucrative venue that attracts both star athletes and impassioned fans.”

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta

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