Walk-through body scanners at each entrance, upgraded Wi-Fi and explosives-trained canine units are some of the changes Carolina Panthers fans can expect to see at home games this season.
The changes are part of a five-year, public-private financing agreement the Panthers agreed to with the city of Charlotte in 2013. The project’s current phase has cost $26 million so far this offseason, approximately $18 million coming from the city, said Scott Paul, the executive director of stadium operations.
Focused on security, Internet connectivity, and 500-level concourse improvements, the current phase of the project is on schedule despite the fact that the Panthers’ postseason success shortened construction time, Paul added.
The first time fans will see the changes will be at the July 30 soccer match between Bayern Munich and Inter Milan. The Panthers’ Fan Fest is Aug. 5.
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Higher security will be perhaps the most noticeable change at the stadium this season. The Panthers are installing approximately 95 walk-through body scanners at each stadium entrance, doing away with the handheld scanners and pat-downs.
The NFL started requesting that each stadium have walk-through magnetometers about three years ago, said Lance Emory, executive director of risk management. Some stadiums are up to speed, and some aren’t.
“We hope it’ll be faster once people get accustomed to it because it’s going to be very discriminatory as to what it allows you to bring in,” Emory said.
He added that the Panthers have also added enhanced camera coverage to survey the approximately 33 acres. Also new will be the explosives-detecting canine teams patrolling the stadium’s exterior.
“I think it gives people great comfort when they see the dogs work the area like they do at the airport,” Emory said.
The Panthers say that added security was planned and not in response to the “Monday Night Football” game last November against the Indianapolis Colts, when protesters rappelled inside the stadium.
Wi-Fi, 500-level concourse
Construction on the stadium’s new Wi-Fi wrapped up earlier this week, according to James Hammond, director of information technology. Now there are 1,200 access points effectively doubling the stadium’s capacity from before.
As far as the 500-level concourse improvements are concerned, the goal was to get people through lines more quickly, said Paul, the director of operations.
Part of that included removing all pourable drinks – think draft beer and fountain sodas – from the fixed concession stands because they slow down lines. The Pepsi dispensers also took up a lot of space.
Now fans will buy a cup at the concession stands and fill the drinks themselves at all-you-can-drink Pepsi stands on the 500 level. This makes room for more registers in the concession stands, Paul said.
Fans can continue to buy cans of beer from the concession stands and draft beer from freestanding concession stands.
If the 500-level changes go over well with fans, the team plans to make similar changes to other concourses, Paul said.
Stadium renovations are part of a deal the Panthers agreed to with the city of Charlotte in 2013. That year, the Charlotte City Council voted to give the Panthers $87.5 million, of which $75 million would be spent on renovations. In return, the team agreed to remain in Charlotte for at least six years, with penalties if it moves in the four years after that.
Last year, the stadium renovated its 153 club-level suites, adding, among other amenities, retractable windows, more high-definition TVs and a middle aisle to ease movement. Before that, the project’s first phase included the addition of two new video and ribbon boards, an enhanced sound system, new exterior lighting and escalators.