Bobcats unveil $265M downtown Charlotte arena

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After more than five years of political
angst, Charlotte is ready to take the wrapper off a $265 million
downtown arena that will be home to the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.

And the officials who helped design the building believe they
have a winner.

"I think this building, not only from a budget standpoint but
also from an aesthetic standpoint, is the best [arena] in the
country," building chief operating officer Barry Silberman said
Wednesday as the media toured the arena two blocks from the center
of downtown Charlotte.

Mayor Pat McCrory and Bobcats owner Bob Johnson are to
officially open Charlotte Bobcats Arena at a ribbon-cutting
ceremony Thursday. The Rolling Stones headline the first arena
event Friday, while the Bobcats open their home schedule Nov. 5
against the Boston Celtics.

The city acquired land and paid for construction of the
building, which is being operated by the team.

The 19,000-seat arena replaces the suburban Charlotte Coliseum,
which opened in 1988 for the NBA's Charlotte Hornets but was
quickly made obsolete by a new generation of sports arenas
outfitted with luxury suites and other upscale amenities. The
Hornets moved to New Orleans in 2002, one year after voters
rejected a proposal to use public money to pay for a downtown arena
and other center-city projects.

When the city agreed to build the arena anyway, the NBA granted
Charlotte another franchise, the Bobcats. The team played its first
season last year at the Coliseum, averaging 14,432 fans.

The tepid response has been attributed in part to residual anger
over the arena controversy. Published reports in recent weeks have
said the team is struggling to sell tickets.

Bobcats officials won't discuss ticket sales, but have said they
believe word of mouth will help fill the stands after the arena

With a brick, glass and steel exterior, the building aims to
evoke both Charlotte's roots in the industrial South and the
present-day banking towers that dominate the city's skyline.

"We were not looking for an icon building, but for one that was
beautiful, hopefully, and fit in with the city, " said architect
Doug Brown of the Kansas City, Mo., firm of Ellerbe Becket.

Inside, allusions to Charlotte and the Carolinas are thick. A
massive mural inside the building's main entrance plaza off Trade
Street looks at the history of basketball in the Piedmont; artwork
on the upper concourse surveys Charlotte's history from the 18th
century to the present. The "Pit Stop BBQ" stand alludes to the
region's ties to stock-car racing, while a "Flight Deck" food and
beverage area pays homage to the Wright Brothers' first flight at
Kitty Hawk.

Two levels of luxury suites ring the lower bowl of the arena. A
fine-dining restaurant at the suite level along one baseline will
allow patrons to eat dinner while they watch a game or a concert.

Gone are the glass windows that often front luxury suites, with
the seats pushed onto terraces in front of the main suite space.
The aim was to "make the suite fans part of the crowd," Ellerbe
Becket architect Susan Fulton said.

The arena also has outdoor terrace with skyline views, and the
upper concourse also has an elevated stage for musical performances
and a play space for kids.

Bobcats players weren't forgotten, either. The team's practice
court is part of the arena complex and the players-only area
includes a theater with a 60-inch plasma screen, a lounge, a
state-of-the-art hydrotherapy center and a soothingly lit locker

A dominant feature is the massive scoreboard. Four 16-by-28-foot
LED video screens hang over center court, topped by a wraparound
three-dimensional sculpture of the Charlotte skyline.