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Life on Campus at NC State: The Future of PNC Arena

Life on Campus at NC State: The Future of PNC Arena

The future of PNC Arena has long been a hotly debated topic amongst those in the NC State fanbase, as well as with general Raleigh residents.

For NC State, the debate tends to center around "We should have never left Reynolds" (which is itself a much larger and more nuanced conversation), and for Raleigh residents, the debate tends to center around "We should have an arena in Downtown Raleigh" (despite the lack of infrastructure or space downtown that would make this feasible). These ongoing conversations have naturally led to a lot of questions about the future of PNC Arena (f/k/a RBC Center, f/k/a the Entertainment and Sports Arena).

I think that in a "perfect world", NC State would have a ~15k-person basketball-only arena on its main campus or Centennial Campus (or if there was enough room around Reynolds to have properly expanded it), and the Hurricanes would have a downtown hockey arena. However, I don't think those options are realistic or reasonable for either party for a variety of reasons related to funding, infrastructure, space/land requirements, details of leases/agreements currently in place, etc. Therefore, I believe that both parties are tied to a future that will almost have to involve PNC, and the question is how to create a future that works for all parties. In this lengthy post, I've detailed the background of the Arena, what's in play for the future of PNC itself, and what's planned for the surrounding area.

Who Owns PNC Arena?

NC State was looking to build a successor to Reynolds Coliseum for many years during the 1980s with Jim Valvano at the helm of the MBB program. Those efforts continued to pick up steam into the 1990s even after the mess involving "Personal Fouls" and after NC State decided to totally neuter its Athletics Department. This process coincided with the NHL's Hartford Whalers moving from Hartford, CT to North Carolina in 1997 as the Carolina Hurricanes (first calling the Greensboro Coliseum home) and then moving into Raleigh's PNC Arena in 1999.

The parent/holding company of the Carolina Hurricanes is Gale Force Sports and Entertainment. Since opening in 1999, the Arena has been operated by the Canes & Gale Force, but the Arena is actually owned by the Centennial Authority. The Centennial Authority is made up of members and directors from NC State University, Wake County, the City of Raleigh, the NC House of Representatives, and the NC Senate.

NC State Men's Basketball is obviously the other major tenant that utilizes PNC on a regularly scheduled basis. However, with Gale Force in charge of managing/operating the Arena, they are the entity responsible for booking the conventions, concerts, etc. that are held at PNC.

What are the Canes' & NCSU's Lease Details?

On May 28, 2020, Gale Force agreed to terms with the Centennial Authority on a lease extension for the Hurricanes that will keep the Canes in PNC through at least the 2028-2029 season (although the Canes can pay a fee to break their lease as early as 2024). The terms of that agreement can be found here, along with information on a number of conditions related to rent breaks for the Canes over this period, penalties that would be levied against the Canes if they were to relocate prior to the end of the 2029 lease, and payroll conditions for the team.

Also of note, was that back in 2019, Wake County and the City of Raleigh approved a spending plan that allocated $9M/year for a period of 25 years from the County's hotel, restaurant, and tourism tax to PNC Arena for eventual renovations. A big motivation behind these plans was to incentivize the Canes to sign a longer-term lease.

I wasn't able to find much information floating around the Internet about the details of NC State's lease other than the below Tweet from Debbie Yow back in 2019:

Additionally, in 2020, this N&O article indicated that as part of the lease at PNC Arena, NCSU pays $58,000/home MBB game. Part of the reason that NCSU doesn't play as many non-conference early season games at Reynolds as most fans would like is that NCSU has to play a minimum number of games at PNC each year. Any games played under that contracted amount is money that NCSU has to pay out to PNC Arena for games that PNC wouldn't actually be hosting.

Has PNC Arena Been Renovated?

Since opening in 1999, PNC has seen upgrades over the following 23 years ranging from the replacement of two separate jumbotron scoreboards, an LED light ribbon that was installed around the bowl of the Arena, new seats, and new concession options. However, there have yet to be any large-scale renovations.

As referenced above, major renovation plans were announced in 2019 that were to be funded out of the County's entertainment/tourism taxes. These plans included a rooftop bar & restaurant that would look towards Carter-Finley Stadium, the installation of lounges beneath the main concourse level, the removal of stairwells & suites to add more “income producing spaces”, and the removal of certain aisles to add additional seating. These renovations were expected to come with a price tag of between $160 million - $200 million. However, that whole "COVID" thing kind of created some problems with regard to timing, funding, and virtually everything else.

What is Currently Located Near PNC Arena?

When plans for the Arena were finalized back in the 1990s, the thought was that the Arena would essentially create a new entertainment district in Raleigh with restaurants and other entertainment options expected to follow the Arena's development. This obviously never occurred.

Across Trinity Rd. from PNC Arena there are various offices, a hotel, the Backyard Bistro bar & restaurant, and some fast food options. And across Edwards Mill Rd. from PNC, there is the Post Parkside at Wade development (which includes apartments, offices, Bru's Public House, Spring Rolls, and a café). There's also a Drive Shack and a few other multifamily developments (with plans for additional apartment developments to open in the coming years) nearby as well. However, that's about it in terms of development within walking distance of PNC.

Is Any Future Development Planned Near PNC?

The greater area around PNC is referred to as the "Blue Ridge Corridor". It's comprised of PNC Arena, Carter-Finley Stadium, the North Carolina State Fairgrounds, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine, and UNC Rex Hospital.

As this WRAL article and this TBJ article indicate, there has been approximately $3 billion announced for city, county, and state transportation system investments for this area. One of the primary transportation system investments is the nearby Bus Rapid Transit ("BRT") that will eventually be coming to Western Blvd., and there is also a project that just got underway to completely reconfigure the Hillsborough St. and Blue Ridge Rd. intersection. This project will close portions of that intersection at various points throughout 2023 and into 2024. If you're planning to travel down Blue Ridge or Hillsborough near this intersection at any point in the next two years, expect a lot of road closures and delays. This story from WRAL, this story from ABC11, and this story from the N&O include additional info and renderings showcasing exactly what this project will entail.

There is also $1 billion in public/private investment planned for development projects that will bring additional employees to the area on a daily basis. Two of the main developments on this front are the NC Department of Health and Human Services ("NCDHHS") opening a new headquarters on Blue Ridge Rd. and Bandwidth moving their headquarters to Edwards Mill Rd.

The NCDHHS project on Blue Ridge Rd. will add 4,000+ employees to this area in two 10-11 story towers that are to be located across from the North Carolina Museum of Art and Park. The first of these towers (which will house 2,500 of those employees) is expected to open in 2025, with the second tower expected to open sometime in the years following the first. To help aid with pedestrian connectivity in this area, the City of Raleigh has just started construction on a pedestrian path and bridge that will run down Blue Ridge from the Reedy Creek Rd. intersection and over Wade/I-40 towards Trinity Rd.

Bandwidth is a communications software company that is currently located on NC State's Centennial Campus. Their new sprawling headquarters project will move all of the Company's ~1,000 Raleigh-based employees to Edwards Mill Rd. just a short drive from PNC Arena. This new campus is also expected to have room to accommodate an additional 1,500 future employees.

See below for a map of where these projects are located relative to PNC Arena and Carter-Finley Stadium:

Additionally, the NC Department of Agriculture recently opened a new agricultural sciences center further up Edwards Mill Rd. away from PNC, and the NC Department of Environmental Quality plans to add additional buildings to its campus, which is also located on Edwards Mill.

These planned developments in the immediate area have renewed hope that this Blue Ridge Corridor in West Raleigh will see additional activity, thereby aiding the economic viability and future of the area around PNC.

What are the Planned Renovations at PNC?

As previously referenced, major PNC redevelopment plans were first discussed in 2019, with those plans later stalling for a variety of reasons. However, in the last few months, talks of upcoming renovations have picked up again. These renovation plans were back in the public eye when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman visited Raleigh and toured PNC with Canes' owner Tom Dundon (majority Canes owner since 2018 and sole owner since 2021) at the start of the 2022 NHL Playoffs in May. In his press availability during that visit, Bettman made some very pointed comments about the age of the Arena and its need for renovations. The primary goal of such renovations would be to ensure the Canes remain in Raleigh (and PNC Arena) past the end of their current lease.

The bulk of the plans for PNC's interior renovations has remained consistent with what was proposed back in 2019. As this article from RalToday notes, these renovations would include: additional premium seating and VIP areas, new food and drink options, additional spaces for socializing, a reconfigured entrance to the Arena to improve entry/exit, a new indoor/outdoor plaza on the south end of the building, a rooftop bar/restaurant, expansion of the concourse areas, and an expansion of the Canes' team store, "The Eye". There has also been talk of including a PNC Arena Sportsbook should North Carolina ever join the rest of us in 2022 and legalize gambling (North Carolina Legislature shot this down earlier this year).

The Authority has mentioned that they'd like to see the Arena's renovation work begin in 2024 and currently has an RFQ posted on its website. However, although it's been stated that hotel, restaurant, and tourism taxes are supposed to cover these renovations, the TBJ recently published an article outlining the issues with that plan. With PNC Arena currently undergoing discussions on a naming rights deal, and the country facing economic pressures, how much will each of the parties involved actually be willing and able to kick in to fund these planned renovations?

What Type of Development Would Come to PNC's Surrounding Area?

I think most people would enjoy seeing the Arena get a facelift. I personally don't think PNC feels overly outdated, but it would be nice for additional fan amenities to make the Arena more attractive/modern, and to entice the Canes to sign a long-term lease.

Where most of the angst around this issue centers is the development of the area surrounding PNC. That immediate area around the Arena is approximately 80-acres and includes a sea of surface-level parking, roads, and additional undeveloped tree line abutting Edwards Mill Rd. The Centennial Authority and the Canes have mentioned that they'd like to see this area be developed into an entertainment district that would include hotels, bars/retail, restaurants, offices, apartments, and perhaps even another smaller concert venue.

As a key point of clarification, these plans only include the 80-acre parcel of land that PNC sits on and do not include the approximate 96.80 acres that Carter-Finley sits on - or any of the additional surrounding land owned by other entities. The decision to develop any of that additional land remains with those individual landowners. A map is included below to show who exactly owns each of the lots around PNC and Carter-Finley based on the info found in Raleigh iMAPS:

Shading Key for Which Entity Owns the Property:

  • Blue/Gray: "North Carolina State of State Property Office"
  • Red: "The Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund of NCSU"
  • Green: "The Station at Raleigh Property Owner LLC - Landmark Properties"
  • Yellow: "F7 West LLC - The Brookdale Group" (West Chase Office/Parking)
  • Pink: "Raleigh School Inc. - The Raleigh Preschool Inc."
  • Black: "P&S Inc." (Four Points by Sheraton Raleigh Arena)
  • White: "Wendy's Properties, Inc."
  • Turquoise: "COC Real Estate Co LLC" (Cary Oil)
  • Orange: "Backyard Bistro Properties Inc."

As shown in the picture above, most of the area directly around PNC is currently used for parking. That parking area is most notable for tailgating before/during/after NCSU Football games and for those attending Canes' playoff hockey games.

As these articles from the N&O explain [(Link 1) and (Link 2)], CAA ICON presented a plan to the Centennial Authority in October 2022 for the development of the ~80 acres that PNC sits on for both arena renovations and the surrounding development. Should the Centennial Authority opt to move ahead with the plans, the Canes and Tom Dundon would then have right of first refusal to join as a partner in the development project. Given the number of notable developers working across the area, as well as Dundon's own history with commercial real estate projects, you'd have to think these conversations have already taken place.

However, what's key to the Centennial Authority moving ahead with these plans is that the Authority is comprised of members from NC State, Wake County, the City of Raleigh, the NC House of Representatives, and the NC Senate. Each of these members thus has their own interests, which inherently will create some obstacles for the plan's potential approval. Not to mention that many of the shaded land areas in the map above are zoned for different uses and are also part of larger future land use and overlay districts.

To that point, the other key stakeholder in this decision is obviously NC State. Chancellor Randy Woodson is a member of the Authority and surely has already had conversations with Athletics Director Boo Corrigan about what this development could mean for NCSU and its Athletics Department. Removing the 4,000 parking spaces around PNC for development would mean that those that normally tailgate and park in those spots would likely have to be relocated to parking decks situated in any new development (and if you want to make an NC State fan angry, simply ask their opinion on if they'd want to tailgate in a deck).

What Should Happen to this Area?

If you've managed to make it to this point in this incredibly lengthy post, congratulations. This is one of the longer things I've ever written and I hope it's helped outline what exactly is going on with PNC Arena. Below are my thoughts on what I believe should happen with this area - feel free to respond to me on Twitter (@WROncsu) with your takes.

A huge part of NC State football and Canes' hockey culture is tailgating. I've tailgated for Canes playoff games and enjoy this aspect of playoff hockey that's unique to Raleigh's unconventional NHL market. But one of my absolute favorite things to do each year is to get out to my spot in West Chase (RIP the TX Lot) before a State football game, meet up with all of my friends from college, and tailgate for the five hours that we're allowed to before kickoff (ending the 5-hour tailgate restriction is an entirely different conversation that needs to be had whether or not this development occurs).

I routinely throw more and more money after NC State Athletics every year with very little actual payoff as a fan. However, the number one thing that I get out of my love/hate relationship with NC State Athletics is that I met some of my best friends through attending NC State - and then later attending events as an alumnus. I've met countless other people over the years that have had similar experiences and relationships crafted in the same way through their affiliation with NC State. There's something special and different about the State fanbase considering the ROI we've gotten for our financial/emotional investment in athletics over the years (that ROI is probably beyond negative at this point) and listening to NC State fans' feelings and thoughts regarding this development is critical to ensuring it's done the "right" way.

Having said that, I also think that development of the land around PNC is more than necessary to keep the Canes in Raleigh and to create an area near PNC and Carter-Finley that people can visit for entertainment before events, after events, and even when there's no event taking place at either venue.

I sincerely hope these PNC renovations and this surrounding area development occur, but I also sincerely hope these developments are planned with an eye toward a solution that works for all parties involved. For instance, a development that's designed to include open areas and green space that still allows individuals to tailgate somewhere that's not a parking deck would be a decent compromise in my opinion. In that scenario, maybe not as many people with season tickets would get their own individual tailgate pass/space, but it might be that a single tailgate spot hosts a total of 40 people instead of 10 different tailgate spots hosting 4 people a piece. That doesn't sound like a terrible idea to me, especially given that that's essentially what we all did in the student tailgate lot along Trinity Rd. during college at State anyway.

I also think it's key for those in charge of the development to clearly communicate and articulate their plans for what will come to the area. Point being, the only recent development in this area is Landmark Properties' "The Station Raleigh" student housing project. This is the project that replaced the TX and Trinity tailgating lots (here's where I virtually shake my fist at those who took away the TX Lot).

It's great to see the environment that students have created at that student housing development before/after a game (especially considering how much the NCSU administration has done to severely dilute the environment in the actual student tailgate lot by moving the organizations that care the most about tailgate from the top row of the lot directly along Trinity to the awful asphalt/gravel lot further away from Carter-Finley at the Blue Ridge/Trinity intersection). However, that Station at Raleigh development ended up only including free-standing cottages, which ultimately featured none of the retail, bars, or restaurants that people desperately want to see in this area. If you want the fans and alumni that are losing those tailgating spots to be at least semi-onboard with these plans, then you have to publicize the plans & renderings for the development and solicit feedback from the groups of people that will actually be impacted by this.

Another reason why I believe that developing this land is the correct choice is that Raleigh has billions of dollars in development for projects currently ongoing across the City throughout Downtown, Glenwood South, Seaboard Station, the Warehouse District, Raleigh Iron Works, Midtown East, North Hills, Midtown, Downtown South, etc. There are a lot of exciting things going on around Raleigh, but the West Raleigh area near PNC doesn't include any of that excitement. Developing the land around PNC could finally activate this area of the City along the Blue Ridge Corridor.

For instance, I used to really enjoy taking the Caniac Coach to Hurricanes games. It was a bus that would take people to/from Canes games at PNC and bars/restaurants in different social district areas of Raleigh. The Caniac Coach no longer operates, but it would be great to have the option to stop by a bar near PNC after a game rather than having to leave the zip code to find anything else to do.

Additionally, anyone that's attended a game at PNC or Carter-Finley in recent years knows how much of an absolute nightmare it is to get into or out of those surrounding parking lots. "Shit show" doesn't even begin to describe the ingress/egress process that has to involve at least 90,000 traffic cones set up in some kind of nonsensical arrangement. Development of this area would also have to involve improvements to the public infrastructure in the surrounding area to alleviate some of these issues (as would future commuter rail for the area, but that's a separate conversation).

I also hope those charged with making these decisions look at more creative solutions for the area around PNC rather than just focusing on what directly borders PNC. If you look at the map I included above, the various land parcels in this area are owned by a number of different parties. A few of these parties have office buildings or student housing currently constructed on their land. However, the parties that own the most land in the area that's relatively undeveloped are the State of North Carolina - State Property Office and the NC State University Board of Trustees.

I don't know if the State Property Office & NC State BoT will ever opt to develop the land directly around Carter-Finley, but I really hope someone has spoken to those in the State Property Office about developing at least some of the North Carolina State Fairgrounds land - or at least some of the land that is currently used for state-owned vehicle storage.

I'm admittedly not a huge fan of the fair (and am totally ignorant as to the annual economic impact of the Fairgrounds or the environmental condition of that land), but I hope that everyone lamenting how NC State may potentially hold up the current development negotiations over tailgate space that's used 7-8 Saturdays a year also realizes that there's a nearly 199-acre parcel of land located directly across Trinity Rd. that's primarily used for the fair during a 2-week stretch each year, hosts a variety of tradeshows and flea markets throughout the remainder of the year, and which is most well known for a 1960's Dorton Arena that still looks and feels like the era it was constructed in.

On a micro level from an NC State perspective, future development in this area would make PNC a much more attractive option to host future MBB and WBB NCAA tournament games. But on a broader, more macro level, NC State and Randy Woodson have an immense amount of power in these negotiations. NCSU could use the leverage it has in this process to construct additional practice facilities in the area for FB and MBB, provide housing for FB and MBB athletes near Carter-Finley and PNC, and/or potentially use the revenues from the development to NCSU's benefit if NCSU were to join in as a development partner.

Along those same lines, I don't think PNC has ever been a great venue for basketball. Part of that has to do with the state of the NCSU MBB program for the last 3 decades and part of that has to do with PNC's layout for basketball. Instead of chasing an unrealistic dream of constructing a brand new arena on Centennial, I would really like for NCSU to use its bargaining power in these negotiations to utilize a portion of the funding for PNC's renovations and reconfigure the Arena's setup/layout for basketball to improve the overall experience (moving the students closer to the court on each sideline would be a good first step IMO). It would also be great to see the pre-game MBB events located in the Raleighwood area attached to Carter-Finley be a permanent fixture going forward to improve the fan experience.

Given the influence that NCSU is going to have in this process, I hope that Woodson & Corrigan first and foremost get the best deal they can to benefit NCSU, but I believe that the best deal in this scenario includes working alongside the Canes and the other parties involved to ensure the future of the area around PNC is more promising than it has been for the Arena's initial 23 years of existence. However, like pretty much everything else, any chance of this occurring is dependent upon a variety of parties being willing to spend the money to make it happen. And given the current capital markets situation - as well as the continued impacts from COVID - this entire process is clouded with a considerable amount of uncertainty.