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City Council approves arena renovations, streetcar study

The City Council has agreed to spend $215 million improving the Spectrum Center. It also plans to spend $60 million to help build a new practice facility for the Charlotte Hornets.
The City Council has agreed to spend $215 million improving the Spectrum Center. It also plans to spend $60 million to help build a new practice facility for the Charlotte Hornets.

The Charlotte City Council voted Monday to spend $215 million to renovate the Spectrum Center, as well as to build a standalone practice facility for the Charlotte Hornets. In exchange, the team agreed to extend its lease in the arena from 2030 to 2045.

Council voted 10-1 to approve the arena upgrades. Braxton Winston was the only no vote.

The city's contract with the Hornets calls for Charlotte to continue making improvements to the 17-year-old Spectrum Center. The city must keep the arena among the most modern in the league, and if there are amenities that more than half of NBA arena have, the Hornets are entitled to ask for it.

A city consultant said the city was obligated to spend $173 million on improvements to the build, which cost $265 million to build roughly 20 years ago. But the city decided to spend an additional $42 million — along with the practice facility — to get the team to agree to the longer lease.

The city spent about $30 million to renovate the arena from 2014 to 2018, including installing new scoreboards.

Though the renovations passed easily, some council members were upset with how city staff handled the project. The city's economic development director, Tracy Dodson, unveiled the plan to council members two weeks ago. The public was allowed to comment on the proposal — but only minutes before the final vote.

City Council member Malcolm Graham said the city needs more transparency.

"And I felt from my perspective and even talking to some of my colleagues around the dais that we missed the plane when it took off and caught it at the airport when it was landing and it would be nice to be involved a lot more," he said.

The city has given a general list of what the money may be used for but has declined to give details. Some of the improvements include roof improvements, new HVAC systems, better food and beverage options and more ways to enter and exit the building.

It's unclear where the new practice facility would be built.

The city has two options.

It would prefer to build the facility as part of a massive redevelopment of the main bus station across from the arena. The bus station would be buried underground. Offices, retail, a hotel and the practice facility would be built on top.

The other option is to build the facility on a city-owned gravel lot next to the arena.

Council members also voted 8-3 to spend $4.3 million for an engineering study of the third and final phase of the Gold Line streetcar.

The city wants to extend the streetcar to the Rosa Parks transit center and also to the site of the old Eastland Mall on Central Avenue. Some council members said they are concerned about how the existing four-mile line has been run. It's been plagued by low ridership and frequent delays.

CATS chief executive John Lewis said the engineering study is needed to see if there is a way the Gold Line can operate in its own right-of-way or possibly have priority as it approaches traffic lights.

Republicans Ed Driggs and Tariq Bokhari, along with Democrat Renee Johnson, voted no.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.