Charlotte Athletics receives largest gift in program history

by Sep 29, 2023Athletics

Photo credit: Charlotte 49ers, Jenkins Peer & DLR Group

News broke this week about well-known anonymous matching gift of $25,000,000 to help fund Jerry Richardson Stadium expansion as part of Charlotte Athletics EverGreen Master Vision.

Howard “Smoky” Bissell, and his wife Margaret, have had a $25 million match on the table for Charlotte Athletics for a while — with the potential for more money to come — in an effort to help Charlotte expand Jerry Richardson Stadium. Last week the state of North Carolina legislature passed a budget that included $25,000,000 earmarked for “stadium upgrades” for UNC Charlotte over the next two years, which ultimately “unlocked” the Bissell gift. The Bissell gift, and match from the state, are transformative acts for Charlotte Athletics, but fundraising has not reached the goal line just yet.

“This is a transformational challenge gift from Smoky and Margaret Bissell — the largest our program’s history — and we are grateful for their incredible generosity,” Hill told CBJ. “We are also extremely thankful for the state’s appropriation, which puts us in scoring position. We still have fundraising to do to get across the goal line, and with the Charlotte community’s help, we can get there.”

Mike Hill via the Charlotte Business Journal

Ashley Mahoney of Axios Charlotte tweeted that Charlotte needs roughly $19 million to reach the goal of $81 million to fund the project, means there another $12 million either in hand or pledged for expansion as of now. More on this later.

What’s next for this project?

At this week’s UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees meeting, the board approved the selection of a design firm to help plan the project; the funds ($750,000) for this were approved in April 2023. McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture (MPS) & SLAM teamed up and won the opportunity, with Jenkins Peer & DLR Group as first alternates (they created the EverGreen renderings), followed by Gensler Architecture as second alternate. Alternates are listed in the event that Charlotte cannot negotiate terms with MPS/SLAM to move forward with their design work.

Who are these firms? MPS is a local firm and have worked on over twenty higher education projects that were focused on athletics facilities. A couple of those to note are: University of South Carolina’s indoor practice facility, Wofford College’s new basketball facility, and Mercer University’s football stadium and field house. MPS teamed up with a subject matter expert, SLAM, who has an impressive sports design portfolio.

SLAM has helped with Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium expansion, University of Texas football stadium renovation and expansion, Georgia State University stadium retrofit, and the University of Notre Dame’s stadium additions and renovations.

Project timelines remain unclear

There’s not much information available on this, so below you will find my best attempt to construct a timeline for expansion. I’ve attached sample project timelines below that were provided during this week’s UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees session, this is the foundation of how I derived my timeline for expansion.

Charlotte is currently in the Advance Planning phase, and based on the first sample timeline above, they have approximately 23 weeks remaining in this phase. This will be trimmed down due to the contact size not exceeding $4 million, which allows the university to negotiate instead of having to pull in the State Construction Office. After this is negotiated/executed, there is an 18-week window for planning and SCO review.

Once Charlotte reaches the next phase, Design Activity, the project is looking at an another 60-weeks before construction could possibly start. Construction is not a world I’m familiar with, so I’m unsure of the feasibility of some of those windows being closed in a shorter timeframe than this sample project provides us. My finance degree has helped me with the math involved, Charlotte has approximately 80-weeks left before this project looks to breaking ground.

That would put construction starting in April 2025, and I’ve heard this phase could last around 20-months, though a lot can change before ground is broken. That would put the project being completed at approximately December 2026. It certainly does not seem realistic to have this project completed for September 6th, 2025, when Charlotte will host the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Tar Heels at Jerry Richardson Stadium. Charlotte is also slated to host Ole Miss in 2026, those are two marquee non-conference matchups where Charlotte will certainly miss out on gate revenue without expansion in place.

The most important piece of the puzzle remains funding. Charlotte will need to have all the money in-hand, or pledged, before the Board of Trustees/Board of Governors can act. The current Advanced Planning phase will inform the university as to what the costs will be now. The $81 million figure is around two years old, and undoubtedly that number will rise.