North Carolina athletic department officials are evaluating a plan to replace bleacher seating at Kenan Stadium with 34,000 seats with chair backs, a move that would reduce the stadium’s capacity by around 15 percent, university athletic director Bubba Cunningham said earlier this week.
If the plan goes through, and Cunningham indicated that chances are high that it will, then the upper and lower levels of the sideline sections at Kenan Stadium would feature nothing but blue chair back seats. UNC installed such seats in two lower-level sections before this season.
“And that’s been overwhelmingly popular,” Cunningham said. “So we’re now fully investigating the possibility of putting chair backs throughout the entire stadium.”
The university has approved a $7 million budget for the project, which would be funded by a UNC Finance and Administration capital project internal loan. UNC has received seven project proposals from four firms, though Cunningham said the university hasn’t yet selected a firm.
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If the plan comes to fruition, the seating capacity of Kenan Stadium could be reduced by around 10,000. The current capacity is approximately 63,000. With 34,000 chair back seats in the sideline sections, capacity would be reduced to “the low- to mid-50s, would be my guess,” Cunningham said.
“But we don’t have any designs or anything like that yet,” he said. “We’re still researching all the possibilities.”
If UNC proceeds, the most aggressive timeline would have the new seats installed in time for the 2018 season. The deadline to finalize plans for the project so it could be completed in time for next season is mid-to-late January, Cunningham said.
Changing the stadium seats would not be as simple as removing the bleachers and installing the new chairs. The men’s and women’s lacrosse teams will be playing inside of Kenan this season, while their own stadium is being constructed, and Kenan also hosts UNC’s spring commencement.
“You can’t just rip them all out, because we’re going to play men’s and women’s lacrosse in there this year,” Cunningham said. “We have to be ready to go for commencement in May. Not that the whole stadium has to be done, but we have to accommodate people for those events, amid the construction schedule. So determining the construction schedule is also a major factor in this.”
The seats with chair backs would go only in the sideline sections of the stadium. The bleacher seating in the student section, above the home team tunnel, would remain the same. Other sections of the stadium, including the Blue Zone, already include seats with chair backs.