The Bojangles’ Coliseum -- the site of the first professional hockey game in Charlotte – will celebrate its 60th anniversary next year and there is now an agreement in place for it to do so with a new anchor tenant and a $16 million dollar renovation.
The Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League announced on Monday that they have reached a tentative agreement with the Charlotte Regional Visitors’ Authority to return to Bojangles’ Coliseum beginning with the 2015-16 season.
Next year would mark the first of a 10-year deal the team has struck with the CRVA, which contains two additional five-year options, and is contingent upon a Charlotte City Council vote to approve $16 million in funding for renovations that are necessary to raise the building to AHL standards.
The initial plan for renovations ($12 million previously proposed for amateur sports and civic events and $4 million to accommodate the Checkers) was given in a city council meeting on Monday and the vote will take place on Dec. 8.
Upgrades would include a new high-tech scoreboard, external digital marquees, digital ribbon boards, new seats, new premium seating areas, internal branding specific to the Checkers and new hockey related amenities.
“We are extremely excited about the possibility of returning to our roots at Bojangles’ Coliseum,” said Tera Black, the Checkers’ chief operating officer. “We believe the move to such a historic arena that’s been updated with all the amenities would be greatly beneficial for our organization, our fans and the city of Charlotte.”
The relocation to the Bojangles’ Coliseum would make for a homecoming for the Checkers, who often ran up against the logistical issues of sharing Time Warner Cable Arena with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.
The Queen City adopted the Baltimore Clippers in January of 1956 and a crowd of 10,363 mobbed the Coliseum on a chilly Monday night to see the team play its first game against New Haven (see the photo to the right).
Police had to turn away a reported 3,000 more fans, but the clear interest in the sport sparked Clippers owner Charlie Rock to ask the league to make the move permanent.
The following year, the team’s name was changed to the Checkers. The team occupied the facility at various points between then and 2005, when it moved to its current location at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Although it’s a move away from a more developed area of Charlotte, the relocation will have some immediate positive impacts for the Checkers, who will be the anchor residents of the arena.
At Time Warner, the Checkers were able to schedule just eight Friday night home games this season. By comparison, the Providence Bruins – typically among the AHL’s top drawing teams – boast 19 Friday night games this season.
The club also struggles to secure ice time at TWCA and is often forced to practice in Indian Trail, which would no longer be an issue at the Coliseum.
“I just think there’s a lot of new fans that probably don’t know the arena like it was back when I played there,” said Pat Kelley, who coached the Checkers from 1973-76.
“The days (of play) will be so much better. Your big nights are your Friday and Saturday nights. And with everything else that goes on at Time Warner Cable Arena with concerts and basketball, they just weren’t able to secure all that many.”
Kelly, who is at the majority of the Checkers games nowadays as an official’s supervisor for the AHL, said that he still remembers his time at the Coliseum – some of it spent on the road as a player for the Greensboro Generals of the Eastern Hockey League – fondly.
“It’s noisy and it’s loud and I don’t think there’s any bad seat in that arena,” Kelly said. “When Greensboro and Charlotte used to play you couldn’t find a seat.”