The Charlotte 49ers are leveling up their facilities.
Driving the news: The University of North Carolina at Charlotte board of trustees recently approved $750,000 for advance planning, an initial step toward expanding the football team’s stadium.
- Advance planning includes exploring renovation design options and developing a project timeline. It will also help establish projected expenses, Mike Hill, Charlotte 49ers director of athletics, tells Axios.
- Large projects like this typically include six-to-nine months for advance planning, says Rich Steele, the university’s associate vice chancellor for facilities management.
Why it matters: Charlotte will enter the American Athletic Conference this fall with the smallest stadium in the Football Bowl Subdivision — or FBS, which also includes schools like Michigan, whose stadium is known as The Big House and seats more than 100,000. Plus, new conference rival East Carolina’s stadium seats 50,000.
- Charlotte’s Jerry Richardson Stadium, however, seats 15,314.
Details: The 49ers’ stadium expansion should take two-and-a-half to three years once funding is in place, Hill says.
- Funding will come from corporate and donor giving, per Hill. He declined to share exactly how much has been raised so far.
- The project includes more than 20 naming opportunities. But the stadium name will remain in honor of late Carolina Panthers founder Jerry Richardson, who donated $10 million for its original construction.
By the numbers: It will cost around $56 million to increase stadium seating from more than 15,000 to more than 21,000. The expansion will include a tower to house the press box, suites, game operations and event space.
- It would cost around $81 million to reach 30,000 seats, Hill tells Axios, adding that these initial figures could change.
- It cost $45 million to initially build the stadium, per the program. It was built with expansion in mind.
Context: It’s been almost a year since the 49ers unveiled their EverGreen Athletics Facilities Master Vision— a 12-15-year multiphase and multimillion-dollar plan. Its first phase includes expanding the football stadium; building a new stadium for soccer and lacrosse, plus new clubhouses for softball and baseball; and renovating the basketball locker rooms.
Zoom out: When Hill took over as athletics director in 2018, the football program was five years old and had won a single game the previous season. They went on to have the program’s first winning season, a bowl game and beat a Power Five program at home.
- Charlotte has played in Conference USA since 2015, and announced plans to join the American in 2021.
- The team’s now entering a new conference with a new head coach, Biff Poggi, former associate head coach at Michigan.
What’s next: The next step is project authorization, which will involve the university’s board of trustees and the state’s board of governors, per Steele. If approved, they would then select designers, design the project and then begin construction.
- Construction is estimated to take around 18 months, per the program’s initial study.
- The team will find a way to play home games during construction, but it’s unclear where. Bank of America Stadium, which holds more than 74,000, has not been ruled out as a possible alternate venue, but no formal conversations have taken place.
- “We are excited about hosting events in our community. Ultimately, it comes down to scheduling, availability and whether the opportunities are a fit,” a Tepper Sports & Entertainment spokesperson told Axios.
The bottom line: The Charlotte football program’s growth mirrors the university’s growth as a whole. When the 49ers kicked off in 2013, 26,571 students attended the university and it was still largely considered a commuter school. The student population has since grown to 29,551 as of fall 2022, and Charlotte is carving out a name for itself.