Kurt Taylor had been to National Hockey League games in Raleigh, Washington, D.C., and Boston, and had seen first-hand what could be done with a state-of- the-art high definition scoreboard.
The video, animation and live shots were breathtaking and made the game experience that much more of a thrill for the North Charleston city councilman.
His experiences in NHL and NBA arenas around the country made returning to the Lowcountry and the North Charleston Coliseum that much more deflating.
Year after year he would sit in Section 234 at the North Charleston Coliseum, watching his beloved South Carolina Stingrays play and think about the potential and possibilities the building could have if the right investments were made.
"Going to the NHL and NBA buildings, I knew what was possible and I wanted that same experience at the North Charleston Coliseum," said Taylor, who served on the city council from 1997 to last month. "I knew it would have to be on a smaller scale, but I thought it could be done, and would benefit everyone going to the games and the events."
The scoreboard and sound system, which had not been updated in more than a decade, were only a part of the coliseum's problem. North Charleston mayor Keith Summey knew there were issues with the building when it was first opened its doors in 1993.
"When the Stingrays would draw big crowds or a big concert was in town, you could barely move on the concourse," Summey said. "I used to hate to go there when the crowds came out because you had to wait so long to get anything to eat and you couldn't move around on the concourse."
Cheaper than a new one
In 2007, on the 15th anniversary of the coliseum, Summey took the first steps into researching what an expansion and upgrade of the facility might cost. Summey had a wish list of improvements that included the concessions area, the luxury boxes, the scoreboard and sound system.
"I thought those areas were vital if we were going to modernize the coliseum," Summey said. "We needed to bring the coliseum into the 21st century."
This was just before the dark days of the economic downturn that hit the country in 2008. Summey knew raising taxes to improve the coliseum was out of the question, but he was determined to get the project up and running. The city issued municipal bonds to pay for the proposed $22 million project.
The price tag was nothing compared to the $100 million that it would have cost in five or 10 years to build a new building.
"We feel like we've extended the life of the coliseum by 15 or 20 years," Summey said. "Without these upgrades, we would have had to consider building a new facility sooner rather than later. This saved the city money."
The city broke ground on the 7,400 square foot Montague Terrace food court and ticket office in August 2010. The $12.5 million dollar project, which also included $1 million in upgrades to the luxury boxes were completed just hours before the Stingrays' season opener on Oct. 14, 2011.
The eight luxury suites, which feature private bathrooms, a small kitchenette and flat-screen high definition televisions, were the crowning jewel of the renovations.
"To call them luxury suites before the renovations was a stretch," said North Charleston Coliseum GM Dave Holscher. "It's a significant improvement. It's what you'd have in an NBA or NHL arena."
Despite a price increase of $20,000, Holscher said he had no problem selling the suites for $65,000 a year after the renovations. The eight suites are sold out for the next three years.
The Stingrays have been the major tenant for the coliseum since it opened. The renovations, especially the high definition scoreboard and sound system, have been a welcomed marketing tool for the team. Taylor was a driving force behind the addition of the scoreboard.
"The first night we got to use the new scoreboard, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning," said Stingrays president Rob Concannon. "I think it brings a whole new dynamic to the coliseum and to the games. It takes the game experience to another level and it gives the place a feel of an NHL or NBA arena. We couldn't have done this without the mayor or Kurt Taylor."
In the near future, Concannon hopes to have more cameras throughout the building and have the capability of showing instant replays of the action on the ice.
"The potential is there for things like that and there are some arenas around the ECHL that already have replays," Concannon said. "It'll take a few more cameras and we'd need a command center to produce it, but that's the direction we'd like to go."
The renovations have not been lost on the casual fan.
"I think its awesome and it's about time," said longtime Stingrays fan Larianne Kaiser. "This beats the old days when you had to walk around the concourse looking for what you wanted. The food court is great and the scoreboard is fantastic."
Holscher said construction of the second food court will start in the spring and take about nine months to complete at a cost of about $8.5 million.
"You need to have two concession areas, especially when you have big crowds," Holscher said.
These days, Taylor, who became the administrator for Charleston County, surveys his surroundings at the coliseum with pride.
"I'm a Stingrays fan when I come here, so it's exactly what I'd hoped for," Taylor said. "I'm thrilled with everything that's been done to the coliseum. I think we've made this something that everyone in the Lowcountry can enjoy."