Home of the Preseason No. 6 North Carolina State University Wolfpack
When I first looked at the AP Preseason Top 10 and saw NC State, I thought I would be writing about Reynolds Coliseum, NC State’s 14,000 seat on-campus arena, once the largest in the southeast. The gym that doubled as an armory is still around and is home to Wolfpack women’s basketball, volleyball, wrestling, gymnastics, ROTC but not men’s basketball. Too bad, as it was a great little gym with a uniquely long shape. Because of its unique use and shape, according to Hubert Davis of the rival UNC Tar Heels, the sections behind each basket, “went back as far as I’ve ever seen – the sea of red just never seemed to end.” Despite providing a unique home field advantage and having an impressive capacity for an on-campus arena, NC State officials judged it antiquated when presented with the option of playing in a modern 19,000 seat arena packed with VIP and Club suites.
In 1999, the Wolfpack men’s basketball team began playing games at PNC Arena (its fourth name in thirteen years, originally Raleigh Entertainment & Sports Arena) located three miles west of campus and adjacent to the school’s football 57,000-seat Carter-Finley Football Stadium. The idea for the move was originally proposed by Wolfpack coaching great Jim Valvano on the heels of the school’s second national championship in 1983. The plan for the new arena was solidified by the move of the Hartford Whalers National Hockey League team to Raleigh in 1997. Building a new arena for the re-named Carolina Hurricanes hockey club, NC State basketball and major concerts and shows ultimately established the state capital as a sports and entertainment hub and was an enticing option NC State could not resist.
PNC Arena was designed by Richmond-based Odell Associates, architects of the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte three hours west of Raleigh. The three tiered Arena boasts 66 luxury suites, 2,000 club seats and a 500-seat restaurant. It can transform from basketball court to hockey rink to concert venue in the blink of an eye and its LED video displays that ring the upper tiers and four-sided video scoreboard hovering over center court create the illusion of excitement and dynamism.
To create a more collegiate, boisterous atmosphere temporary seats around the court – those between the hockey rink and the court – are reserved for students. Screaming students, Wolfpack mascot, flag waving cheerleaders all make the three mile journey from campus to PNC and create a good impression of a college basketball atmosphere within this professional facility.
NC State is always in competition with nearby Duke and the University of North Carolina, both of which play in the historically significant buildings of Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Dean Smith Center respectively. By playing in this modern, professional-standard facility NC State hopes to capitalize on its rivals being tied into their respective arenas both of which lack the modern amenities and revenue generators of PNC Arena.
As far as modern arenas go, PNC is mediocre at best. It sits within an expansive parking lot and its exterior of glass, stone panels and corporate signage scream shopping mall not university arena. PNC Arena’s suburban, commercial character would be benign enough, as there are a lot of mediocre sport facilities out there, if it weren’t for its university team as tenant. University buildings are held to a higher standard than commercial buildings because they are expected to survive a much longer time. While a typical commercial building might be designed for a thirty-to-fifty year lifespan, an academic building is meant to last one hundred. In addition, academic buildings are designed within the urban context of a campus plan and are therefore by definition more public and dynamic. PNC Arena is none of these and while it might be cash cow for the University and perhaps the noise level reached by court side student seats is satisfactory, its not up to the standard set by the Reynolds Coliseum years ago. Despite the architectural deficiencies, Mark Hatfield has NC State in position to wrestle bragging rights away from its local rivals so perhaps PNC Arena is good enough.