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Friday Food for Thought: Renovate or Rebuild?

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What’s the best move for the Smith Center

North Carolina Tar Heels Championship Welcome Rally Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

Welcome to Friday Food For Thought, the weekend conversation starter. Each week, this article presents a topic for debate. Whether in the comments section, on the golf course, or around the weekend game table, the goal is to provide enough background that either side could be a winner. In order to facilitate the discourse, a suggested beverage pairing is also be included. So speak up, mix it up, and drink up.

Your normal server is off enjoying the magic that is Orlando this week, so I’m your substitute. No worries, we have a great dish ready for you today.

Scrolling through the Twitterverse, I caught on to this story about the renovations that were approved over at the University of Kentucky. The Wildcats also play in an arena that holds over 20,000, but the arena was showing its age. Basketball being what it is in Kentucky, they wanted to make sure they had a new facility to show off, not to mention bow to the fact that people don’t want to sit on benches to watch a sporting event when they have a comfortable couch at home. These renovations are actually set to reduce attendance at Rupp, but make the experience better for everyone who attends.

This brought to mind the fact that Carolina also plays in a facility that is due for an upgrade. It may not be in the immediate future because of all the other work going on, but the Dean Smith Center is up on the drawing board. Bubba Cunningham has said as much, as the place no longer is a guaranteed sell out and doesn’t have any of the modern amenities of the top-tier arenas. The question isn't whether change is coming, but what will? Renovate the current building or build a brand new arena off campus?

1. Point

When the Dean Smith Center opened up, it became a monument to not only what Carolina Basketball had become, but a way to honor the man who had brought the prestige we still enjoy to this day. To move on from that building or to try and name another building after him dampens the effect of that original honor. It’s also completely possible to get what you need by playing in the same building.

The building is big enough to house over 22,000 seats and be basketball only. In this day and age, though, you don’t need 22,000 seats. You can shave 5,000-6,000 off of that number and use that newly found space to redo the concourses and add a level of suites. Cunningham has hired firms and has shown it can be done, it just requires some sacrifices.

The biggest sacrifice would be losing your home arena for at least a season. Unlike Rupp, to do what you need to in Chapel hill you’d essentially have to gut the whole building, and you can’t do that in a span of March-November. What to do? Well, you have a perfectly good arena in the middle of campus that just so happens to have been renovated recently. You also have a perfectly good arena 30 minutes down the road in the Triad that has served as a home arena before. While either option would create a short term loss of revenue, the long-term result means keeping a crown jewel on campus and keeping the monument for who knows how much longer.

Considering Greensboro has an actual parking lot, the total time for fans to travel to and from games may not end up being that much different, and those with the lifetime seat guarantees can be accommodated in the Coliseum. The result? Those same seat holders get the ability to move into the new club section, opening up room down low for students to ring the court. It doesn’t create the awkward situation of having to go to people who bankrolled the original arena and having to figure out where they stand.

There’s another benefit to staying on campus. Maybe that makes it a pain in the rear for people coming and going to the games, but there’s something special about the students being able to walk from their dorms to experience watching the game instead of having to line up for a bus. It may not sound like much, but forcing them go off campus takes a little bit of the magic away from the experience while you are a student. It also exaggerates the separation between the basketball team and the rest of the student body.

2. Counterpoint

Why go through the hassle of gutting a place when you can build exactly what you want from the ground up? Cunningham has mentioned that with what they would have to do in order to bring the building up to code with the ADA, the cost of building a new place would end up being the same. So if the money is even, why add to your headache by having to move your team for at least a season? Even if you play in Greensboro, you have to rent out the place and it’s likely the folks that run the arena will get all the parking and concession revenue that you’d normally get.

How to fix that problem? Well, if you’re building a new place, you don’t have to go through the process of finding a place to play or raise the additional funds to cover your losses while the new place is being built. Don’t forget, Carmichael is now down to under 7,000 seats. 7,000 versus 22,000 is a huge loss, especially when you have to allocate spots for the Rams Club and give students a chance to watch.

This also avoids the thorny recruiting issue of a class of students having to come in and play in a substitute building. Who knows what recruit you miss because they know they have to play in a traveling show for one season. At least if you are building a new place they know where they will be playing, day in and day out.

Parking also is a problem that can finally be fixed with a building off campus, and don’t discount the amount of revenue that can bring in. Instead of having to contract with Chapel Hill Transit, people can actually drive to the arena, park nearby, and the roads can be built to allow for smooth in and out. That will never happen at the Smith Center, and ease of entry and exit would likely lead to a lot less late arrivals for 7 PM games.

Drink Pairing

In need of encouragement to debate-A couple years ago, I was flying back from visiting the in-laws in Texas, and a local establishment served what they called the Texas Mule. Considering current events, it’s a guilt-free way to enjoy the Fourth while taking in a refreshing drink. Grab your copper cup, fill it with ice, and add 1 12 ounces of Tito’s (Texas Vodka, get it?), 4 ounces (1/2 a cup) of Ginger Beer, 12 ounce of lime juice, and garnish with a lime wedge. The copper cup is important as it will help keep the drink cold during that hot debate you are having.

Can debate without assistance-grab a four pack of Cheerewine in glass bottles, throw it in your chill chest, and sip heartily. There are a few places here in the northeast that have imported this wonderful beverage, and it takes me home every time.