NC Trend: Clearing the ice

 In May 2016, NC Trend

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After 17 years in the same house, it’s rarely easy to decide how much to invest for a remodeled kitchen or new patio. It gets more complicated if you aren’t sure who will pay the bills. That’s the challenge facing Raleigh’s PNC Arena, the suburban venue that cuts against the trend toward downtown sites.

The answers will start coming late this month or in early June, when architects Ratio and HOK produce a report for the arena’s owners, the state-chartered Centennial Authority, suggesting new designs and projected costs to maintain the arena’s appeal to tenants, sports fans and concertgoers. An early estimate puts the total renovation at $80 million.

Opened in 1999 at a cost of $158 million, PNC is easily accessible from Interstate 40. Its finances are solid, backed by Wake County hotel and restaurant tax receipts. It gets raves from many after hosting pro hockey and N.C. State University games, four NCAA men’s basketball tournament games over the last 13 years and concerts ranging from Taylor Swift to Paul McCartney. “Everybody loves the building,” says Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance.

It’s just that PNC doesn’t have the pizazz of peer arenas, most of which are now built in central business districts adjacent to bars, hotels and other entertainment venues. The 270-seat Backyard Bistro and a gas-station Wendy’s are the only restaurants within walking distance. The reinvigorated downtowns of Raleigh and Durham are 6 and 19 miles away, respectively.

It hurts that PNC’s main tenant isn’t scoring enough goals. The Carolina Hurricanes haven’t made the playoffs since 2009 and missed again this year, having lost $75 million over the last decade and are worth less than all but two of the National Hockey League’s 30 teams, according to Forbes magazine.

“There’s zero buzz about the Hurricanes in the community,” says Dave Droschak, a former Associated Press sportswriter and now marketing director for the Backyard Bistro. “When you miss the playoffs for that long, the interest wanes.”

Majority owner Peter Karmanos is selling his interest in the Hurricanes. He acquired the Hartford Whalers for $48 million in 1994 and moved the team to North Carolina in 1997. Forbes now pegs the Hurricanes’ value at $225 million, compared with a league average of $505 million. The NHL has provided some low-interest financing for Karmanos’ Gale Force Sports and Entertainment, according to Forbes.

Even if the Hurricanes’ lease didn’t run through 2024, renovating PNC makes more sense than pushing for a downtown building, according to a consensus of community leaders polled by Dupree. “The fact is that the PNC Arena feels new and is still too nice and too good to bring it to an end and put a building downtown,” he says. The question for remodelers is, how nice?

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