Bojangles Coliseum: A sneak peak where #CheckersComeHome

Today I had the privilege of checking out the new and amazing Bojangles Coliseum. Wow. It has charm, character, and sightlines that can’t be beat, and all of the amenities a larger NBA arena might have. Checkers fans are going to have one of the best rinks in the AHL this season, and one of the oldest arenas in the league. The Toronto Marlies’ Ricoh Coliseum was built in 1921, but most other AHL arenas were built in the 1980’s and 1990’s.


A panorama from the middle aisle of section 108.

A panorama from the middle aisle of section 108.

Bojangles Coliseum is a unique and amazing 60 year-old building. It’s the first place I ever saw a professional hockey game, and the birthplace of professional hockey in the south, so sentimentally, I’d say it’s pretty special.

High at the end of the ice

High at the end of the ice

I’d stopped by to watch practice, but found myself too distracted by checking out the upgrades to focus on the skating, so instead I wandered around the seating bowl, walking to the top of all of the sections and choosing seats to sit in. There isn’t a bad seat in the house. Honestly, the higher up I got, the more I liked the view because of how well I could see formations and plays being created on the ice.

Almost as high as the rafters, and still an amazing view.

Almost as high as the rafters, and still an amazing view.

As I sat in about a dozen different locations, I continued to be filled with excitement for the upcoming home opener, and the historic venue coming to life again.

Observations and educational tid bits I learned today:

  • The seats are comfortable! I was sad they were plastic and not wood, but they feel great, even without padding like TWCA had.
  • The lighting is fantastic. It’s all LED, but it’s not a gross, harsh cold LED light. The color temperature was relatively warm and appealing (and now I will step down off my lighting designer soap box).
  • There honestly is NOT a bad seat in the house. I sat low and high on the sides, the corners, the end of the ice… it’s all a great view!
  • According to a handout the CRVA gave me, the Checkers plan to use the Hammond B2 organ that is original to the building. How awesome is that??!?!??!? I love organ music at a hockey game (it’s so much better than the awful “Jock Jams” stuff we hear so much of).
  • The roof of Bojangles Coliseum is made of tin. I guess I should have known that with its beautiful silver sheen, but that makes me love it even more. Nothing like a tin roof in the South, y’all!
I love the color of the ceiling, and how much brighter the arena is with new LED lighting!

I love the color of the ceiling, and how much brighter the arena is with new LED lighting!

#CheckersComeHome: The chance to make history

When I think about the Checkers move home to Bojangles Coliseum, one wish continues to come to mind, and that’s a reconnection with history.  The Checkers aren’t a team that simply arrived in Charlotte in 2010.  They also aren’t a team that moved to TWCA in 2005 after 13 years at Bojangles that began in 1993 with the ECHL (even though the Charlotte Business Journal alludes to that being the only history the Checkers have at Bojangles Coliseum).

The Charlotte Checkers are a team that has spanned decades in Charlotte. My parents attended games on dates when they were high school and college sweethearts.  I attended my first pro hockey game there when I was in high school. The Checkers roots run deep at Bojangles Coliseum, and I know the current organization embraces this beyond the simple(yet eloquent!) “Checkers Come Home” phrase. The leagues and franchises have changed, but Charlotte hockey teams have won five championships over the course of the past 60 years.

The first Charlotte Hockey team, the Charlotte Clippers, were the Eastern Hockey League Champions in 1957, in their first full season in Charlotte.  After changing their name to the Charlotte Checkers in 1960, the franchise went on to win championships in 1970 and again in 1972. After moving to the Southern Hockey League in 1973, the Checkers won the championship in 1975 and 1976. Unfortunately, the following season was cut short when the league folded, and it wasn’t until 1993 that Charlotte had a professional hockey team again.

My dream for Bojangles Coliseum is to see five championship banners hanging from the rafters, or at least prominently inside the rink, because each of the five championships Charlotte has are significant, even if they aren’t from the current AHL era.  Having visited a number of AHL arenas, I’ve seen teams that embrace their history of past leagues and championships. I hope the Checkers show off their history, because they have a rich and storied one.

The logos and leagues have changed, but pride in the Milwaukee Admirals remains. (Photo: J. Propst)

The logos and leagues have changed, but pride in the Milwaukee Admirals remains. (Photo: J. Propst)

When I visited Milwaukee for the first time for an Admirals game, I was struck by the history in the building. Hanging prominently in the rafters of an arena shared with an NBA team, hung banners touting the USHL, IHL and AHL championships Milwaukee Admirals franchises have won over the year. Different leagues. Different levels of competitive hockey, but they all shared one beloved name in Milwaukee, and that’s the Admirals.

 

Retired jerseys and championship banners, from three different leagues worth of Milwaukee Admirals. (Photo: J. Propst)

Retired jerseys and championship banners, from three different leagues worth of Milwaukee Admirals. (Photo: J. Propst)

I then traveled to Chicago, and Peoria, and saw the same thing. Cities and teams proud of their history, of their hockey teams, even when they changed leagues.

I’ve always been a bit jealous of that history, or at least, the cities that not only embrace the history, but flaunt it.  And Charlotte has a hockey history that deserves to be flaunted. We have a rich and storied hockey past that at 59 years and counting, is something to be proud of.

So my dream is to walk into Bojangles Coliseum next fall and see banners in the rafters proclaiming the awesome feats that Checkers over the decades have accomplished. I want to see EHL and SHL Championship Banners.  A banner proclaiming the Charlotte Checkers as the Kelly Cup Champions.

Checkers fans have a lot to look forward to next season when the team moves home.  I’m excited about the old and new traditions that the building will facilitate.

January 30, 2016 is the 60th Anniversary of the first professional hockey game in Charlotte (and one of the grand opening events at BoCo?) Now that’s a date to celebrate and I hope it’s a great one.

 

 

So, what are your wishes for the 2015-16 season, and the Checkers return to Bojangles?

 

Checkers announce move “home” to the birthplace of hockey in Charlotte and relocate to Bojangles Coliseum in 2015-16.

The Checkers announced today that they would be moving out of Time Warner Cable Arena next season, and back to the birthplace of hockey in the south, the old Charlotte Coliseum on Independence Blvd, which is known today as Bojangles Coliseum.  The Coliseum is on the Charlotte historic register, and is the largest free-standing dome in the world since Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena was demolished in 2011.

As most hockey historians know, the first professional hockey game was held at Bojangles Coliseum in January, 1956 after the Baltimore Clippers arena burned down, and the team needed a temporary home to play the remainder of the year.  Hockey had never been played professionally in the South, and the Checkers success was crucial to the southern expansion of the sport. In the fall of 1956, the Clippers relocated permanently to Charlotte, and later became the Charlotte Checkers, a team that has been a fixture in Charlotte for much of the past 60 years.

The Checkers moved to uptown Charlotte in 2006 when TWCA was built and the NBA returned to Charlotte with the Bobcats, and now Hornets.  In 2010, the Checkers were upgraded to the AHL after many successful seasons in the ECHL.

I’ve been a fixture at Checkers games regularly since 2010.  The first hockey game I ever attended was in 1993 at the old coliseum.  I don’t have as many memories of games at the old barn, but from what I’ve been told, the atmosphere was electric.

I’ve also been lucky enough to visit a number of AHL hockey arenas over the past five season.  Hershey, which has a similar capacity to Bojangles Coliseum, is an exciting place to watch a game (especially in the playoffs, when the Checkers win a game!).  Rockford and Peoria were also outstanding venues, because the size of the arena was a better fit to the fan base.  A full building is always an exciting building.  Both of those arenas were located in downtown areas, but the smaller size made it much more fun than the vast, empty TWCA on most Checkers nights.

Will I miss having games in uptown? Heck yes.  I work uptown. I spend a lot of my free time there as well, at local bars and restaurants.  I love the convenience of TWCA and the fact I never have to pay to park because I walk there from work, and have dozens of choices of places to meet friends and family for drinks before or after games.

Though those are certainly downfalls and inconveniences for me, the move to Bojangles Coliseum is going to be a good one for the city of Charlotte, the Checkers and the fans, and here are just a few reasons:

  • Instead of having to curtain off the top half of a gigantic building, Checkers fans will be able to fill the coliseum night after night, from top to bottom. Can you imagine the sound of a game under the Bojangles dome? It will be incredible.
  • The Charlotte Checkers will no longer have to pack up and travel to Indian Trail for practice. Having their own home ice for games and practice will be a huge benefit to the team.
  • The Checkers will have their OWN building. They won’t be the minor league team that rents an NBA arena 36 times a year, but as the primary tenant at Bojangles, they will have a space that will be Charlotte Checkers, through and through.
  • The schedule will be much improved for home games. Instead of having to play second fiddle to the Hornets (and the circus, and Disney on Ice, and every other event), the Checkers will have a say in when their home games are played, and won’t be competing with other tenants at TWCA.
  • The Checkers (and Clippers) won six championships (in a number of different leagues) while they played at Bojangles Coliseum. They have not yet won a championship at TWCA, so maybe a move back to their roots is what is needed to get back in the championship chase.
  • An upgraded Bojangles Coliseum will be a huge step towards revitalizing East Charlotte and Independence Blvd. As an East-side resident, this excites me a great deal. The venue has so much history. The list of people who have performed under it’s dome is a long one: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, The Who, The Jackson 5, Judy Garland, The Rolling Stones… you get the idea.
  • I’d much rather see the city of Charlotte upgrade Bojangles Coliseum to what it was designed and built to be, a hockey arena and sports venue, then the dumb youth basketball court they talked about doing recently.
  • The $16 million in upgrades are long overdue for this historic venue. Instead of being a city that bulldozes new construction when it no longer serves a purpose (Tyvola Road Coliseum, most of uptown Charlotte, etc.) I’m happy to see the city preserving and revitalizing what they have. Charlotte is a world class city, and our history is important. I’m excited to see what they can do for $16 million, though I know it won’t be enough.

What are my fears of the move? They are few, and mostly have to do with human nature having a hard time with change.

  • $16 million isn’t a lot of money. Technology is EXPENSIVE, and new videoboards, seats, lighting, a sound system, bathroom upgrades etc. cost a lot of money.  Last summer the Belk Theater spent $1.6 million to replace 2000 seats and upgrade ONE bathroom, and Bojangles Coliseum is five times the size.  New dressing rooms and the backstage areas are in disrepair at Bojangles, and will require more than just a coat of paint to freshen them up.
  • The Hornets claim that they need $30 million to upgrade TWCA… and it’s a much newer building that got a number of upgrades for the recent 2012 Democratic National Convention. Where is all that money going, and why do they need it over a historic building that hasn’t been upgraded practically since it opened in 1956?
  • Parking at Bojangles might be a drag. I live close by the Coliseum, but not close enough to walk, and public transportation isn’t an option. The City of Charlotte charges $10 to park for events at Bojangles and Ovens Auditorium. This is way too much, and I don’t look forward to shelling out that kind of cash!
  • I’m going to miss all of the options in walking distance of the arena. I enjoy sharing a beer before and after games and on the nearly-dead Independence Blvd., this won’t be an option.

All in all?  Two thumbs up for this historic move home to the birthplace of hockey in Charlotte.