UNC/Chapel Hill’s Dean Dome renovation or relocation being explored by UNC working group

Basketball coach Dean Smith in the nearly completed Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center at UNC, 1985. Photograph by Hugh Morton. Hugh Morton Photo Collection, North Carolina Collection Photo Archives, Wilson Library.


by Michelle Cassell
Managing Editor 

Dean E. Smith Center, University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill athletic arena (nicknamed Dean Dome) and home to its Tar Heels Men’s Basketball team is being considered for renovation or relocation, according to UNC Athletics spokesperson Robbi Pickeral Evans. The athletic department has commissioned a working group to explore the Dean Dome options. They are exploring both on- and off-campus locations for a new arena.

“The Dean E. Smith Center has been an outstanding home for our Men’s Basketball program since 1986. In order to continue our championship success, we are investigating and analyzing multiple options for the arena – including renovating the Smith Center, keeping the building as is, and building new. Our goal is to create the best experience possible for Tar Heel student-athletes and fans while potentially generating more revenue for the Department and enhancing the University community. Carolina is an innovative place that thrives on excellence both in the classroom and on the court; to continue that standard of excellence, we must examine all options,” Evans told TLR.

The Dean Smith Center “was considered a state-of-the-art athletic arena when it opened in 1986. The initial capacity for the Dean Smith Center was 21,444, which made it the third largest on-campus arena for the 1985-86 college basketball season. Seating was expanded to increase capacity to 21,572 in 1990. Before the Tar Heels’ 2000-01 season, a standing-room-only section for students was added behind the basket the visiting team opposes in the first half. This increased the capacity of the arena to 21,750,” according to Wikipedia.

The arena has undergone many renovations over the years: removal of box seating for more capacity,  new video boards, improvements in lighting and sound, and improvements in the locker rooms and office space, according to the history of the athletic center.

“The future of the arena is questioned due to a variety of issues stemming from a narrow concourse, limited storage, and a desire to have premium seating to earn more revenue. The issue is further complicated by the fact the Smith Center was privately funded and the seats paid for by the initial donors carry two full generations, which limits any possible renovation but could be circumvented by building a new arena,” according to the history. The number of privately funded seat licenses will impact how renovations or a new structure can be considered.

According to UNC A to Z, the Dean Smith Center was built with more than $34 million in private contributions. There are 5,500 private seat licenses remaining from the original financing campaign.

The working group is just beginning, and no deadline has been established.

Michelle Cassell is a seasoned reporter who has covered everything from crime to hurricanes and local politics to human interest over the course of 35 years. As managing editor, she hopes to encourage writers of a wide range of backgrounds and interests in TLR’s coverage of Southern Orange County news. 

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