Carolina has had plans to continue with renovations at Kenan Stadium since the school finished with the last project in 1997, and it appears the hiring of Butch Davis is going to generate the spark needed to get the construction started relatively soon.
"We've been meeting with the Board of Trustees and the faculty and Dick Baddour, the athletic director, and we're on the cusp of doing $100 million worth of renovations to the stadium," Davis said. "We're hoping it will start within the next 18 months. We'll bowl in the other end zone, do some sky boxes, build a new academic support system, and we may possibly add a fifth floor to the Kenan Football Center.
"There are people who say, 'Hey, we want to be as competitive as anybody in the country.'"
Last summer, before anyone knew Davis would become the coach by season's end, Baddour said that UNC wanted to finish its overall plan for Kenan. At that time, he had hoped to begin by tearing down the current press box and replacing it with luxury suites and a new press box. He said the income from the luxury suites would pay for that portion of the construction so it made sense to start there.
But ever since the Kenan Football Center was built, under the guidance of Mack Brown and John Swofford, the school has had the plans for a 100,000-square-foot building that would replace the old field house at the opposite end of the stadium. The debate was whether to fill in with new seats at the same time, basically duplicating what was done when the stadium was expanded to 60,000 seats by filling in the end zone adjoining the Kenan Football Center.
At one point, the Athletic Department offices were going to move to that facility. Now they are going in the new Ernie Williamson building, which is being constructed next to the Smith Center.
Because the football program has struggled since Brown left for Texas, the current stadium has rarely been filled to capacity. This made school officials hesitant to add more seats. Davis said the plan now is to go ahead and build the new building to replace the old field house and fill in that end of the stadium with more seating.
"What would be the perfect thing, seating capacity as well as sky boxes and club seating?" Davis said. "There hasn't been any definitive number. I love the configuration of the stadium. It's right on top of you. It's a football stadium. Bowling it in will enhance it.
"We've done some things this summer. We've added some LED boards to the stadium to dress it up. We've renovated the weight room and the locker room. We have done some stuff with the recruiting room."
He said school officials have started the preliminary process of deciding the best way to do the new additions.
"I know several members of the Board of Trustees have gotten on a private plane and gone to visit Alabama, Arkansas, Texas," Davis said. "They've gone to visit some of the other schools to see how they did their stadium renovation and expansion.
"They've actually had a couple of companies come to Chapel Hill and say, 'If we can get the contract, this is what we would like to do.' As a matter of fact, they were there as recently as [last week]."
There will be detractors, of course. Critics will question why it is necessary to enhance the football facility again after it underwent such extensive renovations 10 years ago. Davis said that it is important to move forward with this project if the school wants him to build a nationally competitive program.
"You don't want to ever damage the charm and beauty of Kenan Stadium," Davis said. "It's a classic. But we have to play catch-up in the arms war of facilities.
"It's been a huge help already in recruiting," Davis said. "It's been something we've been able to talk to recruits about. 'Hey, this is going from the back burner to the front burner.'"
In the 10 years since Carolina redid Kenan Stadium, Davis said the rest of the country did not stand still.
"When Carolina did the existing facility, it was the Taj Mahal of college football at the time," Davis said. "It was the first really major statement of a football facility in the end zone. Ten or 11 years later, everybody in the country has had a chance to look at that and say: 'OK, we need to add this. We need to make ours better than this.'
"Someone threw this number out; I think it is relatively accurate. Since Kenan's addition to the stadium, 50 colleges in different conferences in the United States have had an opportunity to do similar projects. So obviously we have to catch up.
"I think it absolutely will happen pretty soon," Davis said.