Chris Johnson left Atlanta at 3 in the morning Wednesday and pulled into the parking lot of Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte at 7 a.m., easily making him the first person in line.
He admits four hours is a long time to drive for two tacky orange wooden seats. But these weren’t just any chairs.
“I’m here to take home a piece of history,” said Johnson, 41, who was raised by parents who still live in Pinehurst.
As part of its $16 million renovation, the coliseum is selling a scant 832 of its nearly 10,000 discarded seats to the public as souvenirs.
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Johnson was among a lucky 374 people who got seats, which were offered only in sets of two ($40) and three ($45), on a first-come, first-served basis in July.
All 832 seats were sold within the first 15 minutes. But that didn’t stop nearly 3,000 people from signing up, officials say.
The winners were notified by email and told to pick up the seats Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
“I saw the Jacksons here. I saw Diana Ross here, too, and I saw an exhibition game in which Michael Jordan scored 56 points,” Johnson said. “This was the place my parents took me to show me that there is a big world out there, and getting these seats is my way of remembering that.”
The coliseum, managed by the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, is undergoing the first full renovation of its 60-year history. As one of the oldest entertainment venues in the southeast, its wooden seats held audiences for the world’s greatest artists, including Elvis, James Brown and the Rolling Stones.
It was also home to the city’s oldest professional sports team, the Charlotte Checkers, which will once again take up residence in the site after the renovation is complete this fall.
The team helped coordinate CRVA’s plan to distribute the seats, using its website gocheckers.com as a way for people to sign up.
Tom Murray, CEO of CRVA, said his organization kept the price low on the seats by charging only what it cost to dismantle, store and then redistribute them.
He said the decision to limit the number of seats made available was based on labor and time constraints, and a desire to keep the taxpayer-funded renovation on schedule. The work is set to be finished next month. The venue’s first event, a college graduation ceremony, is Oct. 24.
“I’m not surprised at the response, because we have listened to so many of the community’s stories about coming here with their parents, early romances, or seeing some big show here. There are a lot of deep connections to the building,” Murray said.
“We realized that people felt these seats belonged to them more than they belonged to us.”
Coincidentally, CRVA also made seats available to the Checkers for their offices, the Charlotte Museum of History and the Levine Museum of the New South.
The bulk of the nearly 10,000 seats were dismantled for recycled parts, the CRVA reported.
CRVA officials believe the farthest someone came for seats Wednesday was a couple, Rodney and Linda Harm, who drove up from Vero Beach, Fla. Rodney, 64, is the one who wanted the seats and his reasons were unusual: He’d written a master’s thesis on the coliseum while attending college in the Charlotte area.
Another lucky one was Jeff Owen, 55, of Gastonia, who showed up just minutes after Chris Johnson Wednesday. He says he saw his first concert there at age 16, an Elton John show.
“I’d like to think they’ll go in the TV room, but my wife doesn’t know I’m getting them. ‘You got what?!’ I can hear her saying,” Owen said. “She’ll think I’m crazy. Who knows, they may end up in the garage.”