Smith Center might see renovations

The home of North Carolina basketball could soon get a major makeover.

Discussions about renovations to the Dean Smith Center sparked for the second time in a year — but questions remain about the level of funding needed to spruce up one of the University’s most famous landmarks.

Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham said the project is only in its beginning stages — but it is time for a change.

“The stadium is about 30 years old, and I just think that if we don’t do anything that we’re going to look up five, 10, 15 years from now and wonder why we’re behind,” he said. “We need to continue to invest in the facilities and make sure they stay relevant.”

Steve Kirschner, spokesman for the athletic department, emphasized multiple possibilities for improvements to the Smith Center.

“Can we do renovations or would it make more prudent sense to build a new facility?” Kirschner said. “We don’t know, that’s why this is in the early stages.”

Senior Associate Athletic Director Martina Ballen said when a plan is finalized, the money for renovations would come from several sources.

“It could come from donors, it could be fundraised and a portion of it would be debt,” she said. “Depending on the scope of the project, it is typically that combination.”

Ballen said when the Smith Center was first constructed, all the funds came from private donors. She said that would not be a possibility this time around.

There is no possibility that student fees will be raised for the renovation, Ballen added.

“The student fee was raised here back in 2005-06 for the renovation of Carmichael (Arena), but that’s the only time here that we have done that,” she said.

Kirschner said he has not heard any formal complaints, but the stadium’s age is showing.

“There’s 20,000 people at the games and they talk about the concourses being really crowded,” he said.

Cunningham said details like additional retail vendors and construction costs have not been determined yet, but does not see it becoming a commercial arena.

Sophomore Laura Fellwock, a member of Carolina Fever’s Tickets and Database Operations Board, said she hopes more student seating will be available.

“It can be very difficult on the students who want to witness the game from first-class angles, like the risers, but need to wait in line at 3 a.m. in order to get that front-row riser position,” she said in an email.

Fellwock said students should have the chance to vote on the kinds of renovations that could take place, as well as the Rams Club members who might fund it.

Cunningham said the conversation must be continued.

“It is important that we stay at the forefront of college basketball.”

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