The sounds of razor sharp skate blades gliding across a thick sheet of ice. An old organ serenading the crowds filling up the seats. The smell of nachos, hot dogs and poutine - yes, really - wafting in from the concourse. These are just a few things the senses pick up on while in Bojangles’ Coliseum, in its third season playing host to the AHL Charlotte Checkers but with a long heritage of hockey in its 60-plus years.
Bojangles’ Coliseum is nestled along Independence Boulevard, a few miles east of Charlotte’s bustling “uptown” area. There are not many highlights nearby. No restaurants. No bars. WCCB, the local CW affiliate station, is the lone business nearby. The prominent feature next to the coliseum is Ovens Auditorium, an aging venue that seats around 2,500 and hosts mid level concerts and events.
The Coliseum opened in 1955 and at the time boasted the largest unsupported steel dome in the world. Its massive dome ceiling stands out and above a tree line when approaching the venue from Briar Creek Road. When inside the building, the sheer size and magnitude of the dome can be almost overwhelming. It sits around 9,600 people and, when full, can become a rambunctious place. The acoustics of the building favor a smaller crowd as the sounds of cheers echo throughout the dome.
Bojangles’ Coliseum received significant upgrades over a two-year span that helped modernize the aging coliseum. The stadium is now lined with new seating, a new scoreboard, a state of the art bar and many other cosmetic changes. The Coliseum’s main tenant, the Charlotte Checkers, now have a rink that can match just about any other team in the American Hockey League.
The general area surrounding the historic coliseum, however, is in need of an influx of money and jobs. But relief is on its way. According to the Charlotte Observer, the old Coliseum Center, a nearby shopping center will be torn down and redeveloped with an Walmart Supercenter anchoring the development. Other amenities and places to eat are expected to join.
Bojangles’ will also receive development of its own. The venue will join together with Ovens Auditorium through “The Link”, a gateway to get between and into each venue. The addition to the arenas will feature a shared lobby, additional restrooms and offices spaces as well as other amenities. The Checkers feel they will benefit from the additional amenities. “The Checkers are thrilled that the Charlotte City Council has continued its commitment to our home facility at Bojangles’ Coliseum,” the team said in a statement when the project was announced. “Our move back to the coliseum two years ago has been nothing but positive, and we feel the increased amenities provided by The Link will only improve our ability to create an enjoyable experience for our fans.”
The Checkers and their predecessors have had a long-standing relationship with the venue as their main tenant. Hockey teams played in the Coliseum, then known as the Charlotte Coliseum, from 1956-77, first as the Charlotte Clippers and later as a low minor-league incarnation of the Checkers. In 1992, Charlotte was awarded an expansion franchise with the then-East Coast Hockey League (now simply the ECHL), taking on the name of the earlier club, that took up residence at the Coliseum. Michael Kahn, owner of the ECHL Checkers, acquired the Albany River Rats franchise and the team moved up to the American Hockey League, beginning AHL play in 2010 at Time Warner Cable Arena.
After renovations to Bojangles’ Coliseum were finished in 2015, the Checkers moved back. "Bojangles’ Coliseum is a true hockey building that creates its own experience,” says Checkers chief operating officer Tera Black. “Its 60-year history and amenities from our big renovation two years ago come together to put a modern spin on an old classic that die-hard fans and families going to their first-ever hockey game can all enjoy," says Chief Operating Officer Tera Black.
With many large events held at the Spectrum Center, home to the Charlotte Hornets, Bojangles’ Coliseum can often become the forgotten sporting and entertainment venue. The Coliseum, however, hosts more than just hockey. Legendary acts like the Jackson 5, Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Springsteen have all taken their talents to the confines of the Coliseum and the venue regularly hosts other events from comedy shows and concerts to speaker series.
With its historic structure mixed with modern renovations, Bojangles’ Coliseum continues to be a staple on the east side of Charlotte. Its dome remains a focal point of travel along Independence Boulevard. What one can experience inside, whether a hockey game or concert, is entirely up to the attendee but one thing is clear: a trip to Bojangles’ Coliseum is worth it.