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Kenan Memorial Stadium
Game at Kenan Memorial Stadium.jpg
Location 78 Stadium Drive, Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Coordinates 35°54′25″N 79°2′52″W / 35.90694°N 79.04778°W / 35.90694; -79.04778Coordinates: 35°54′25″N 79°2′52″W / 35.90694°N 79.04778°W / 35.90694; -79.04778
Built 1926-1927
Opened November 12, 1927
Expanded 1963, 1979, 1987-1988, 1995-1998
Owner University of North Carolina
Operator University of North Carolina
Surface Grass
Construction cost $303,000
Architect Corley Redfoot Zack, Inc. (renovations 1987-present)
Capacity 60,000
Field dimensions 360 x 160 ft
North Carolina Tar Heels (NCAA) (1927-present)

Kenan Memorial Stadium is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and is the home field of the North Carolina Tar Heels. It is primarily used for football. Kenan Memorial Stadium opened in 1927 and holds 60,000 people. It is located in a cluster of pine trees near the center of campus at the University of North Carolina. Since the stadium was opened, it has been an unwritten rule that the stadium can never be taller than the surrounding pine trees. Mel Kiper, Jr. ranks Kenan Stadium as the third most scenic venue in the country for college football.[1]



The previous home of the Tar Heels had been Emerson Field, which had opened in 1916 on the current site of Davis Library. By 1925, it was obvious that that 2,400-seat facility was not adequate for the increasing crowds. Expansion was quickly ruled out since the baseball team also used it, and any new football seats would have encroached on the baseball layout.

Funding for the stadium was originally supposed to come from alumni donations. However a notable, Lockport, NY dairy farmer,[2] William R. Kenan, Jr., an 1894 UNC graduate and grandson of one of UNC's original trustees, got word of the initial plans and donated a large gift to build the stadium and an adjoining field house. The stadium was built as a memorial to his parents, William R. Kenan and Mary Hargrave Kenan. The stadium was officially dedicated to the Kenan family on Thanksgiving Day in 1927 in front of 28,000 fans, after the Tar Heels beat the Virginia Cavaliers 14-13.

Ground was broken in November 1926. It was completed in August 1927. The stadium officially opened on November 12, 1927. The Tar Heels defeated Davidson College 27-0, with the first touchdown in the new stadium by Edison Foard. The first game at Kenan Stadium brought in 9,000 spectators.

The original stadium - the lower level of the current stadium's sideline seats - seated 24,000 people. However, temporary bleachers were added to the end zones to accommodate overflow crowds, allowing Kenan to accommodate over 40,000 people at times. This happened fairly often over the years, especially during the Choo Choo Justice era of the late 1940s.



The stadium was expanded in 1963, when Kenan (who died in 1965) donated $1 million to double-deck the sideline seats and add permanent bleachers to the end zones, expanding capacity to 48,000. A seating adjustment in 1979 boosted capacity to 50,000. In 1988, the old press box and chancellor's box were replaced by 2,000 seats between the 40-yard lines, expanding capacity to 52,000.

West End Zone addition creating a horseshoe

The stadium's biggest renovation project to date took place from 1995 to 1998. Head coach Mack Brown wanted a better facility to showcase a resurgent football program, which had gone from consecutive 1-10 seasons in 1988 and 1989 to a run of success not approached since the 1940s. For instance, the only seats in the end zones were the portable bleacher seats added in 1963; most Division I stadiums have permanent seating in at least one end zone. Also, the locker rooms were somewhat cramped by 1990s standards.

Several generous gifts resulted in the addition of a new playing field and a brand-new facility for the football team, the Frank H. Kenan Football Center, named for the great-grandson of the stadium's original benefactor. The Kenan Center includes a memorabilia section showcasing the football program's history. The most visible addition, however, was 8,000 new seats in the west end zone, which turned the stadium into a horseshoe. Also added was a "preferred seating box" atop the north stands. Due to state law, only 6,000 of the new end zone seats were available in 1997. Capacity dropped to 48,500 in 1996, but leaped to 57,800 in 1997. The other 2,200 seats were added in 1998, bringing the stadium to its current capacity of 60,000. In 2003, a modern scoreboard with video capability was added in front of Kenan Field House. The latest addition came before the 2007 season, when the old matrix boards on the sidelines were replaced with ribbon boards.

Recent Expansions

In December 2006, the Chapel Hill Town Council approved changes to UNC's development plan that included at least 8,800 additional seats for Kenan Stadium.[3]

In October 2007, athletic director Dick Baddour announced plans for extensive renovations to Kenan Stadium. Plans call for a new academic support center in place of Kenan Field House, plus anywhere from 5,000-15,000 additional seats. Baddour said that it's not likely the stadium will grow to 80,000 or more because "we can not sell out the seats we have now." The new seats will be added in the east end zone, turning the stadium into a bowl. Plans would have to be approved by the chancellor and the board of trustees, and will almost certainly require a fundraising effort by the Rams Club. No specific timetable has been set, but Baddour said that he hopes to begin construction within 18 months.[4]


This "masterplan" would be divided into two phases; phase one covering the west end zone and two covering the east end zone. The first phase consisted of adding a fifth floor (for recruiting and media space) along with remodeling the existing offices and team spaces in the Kenan Football Center. Approved in July 23, 2008 by the Board of Trustees for $50 million, Phase I renovations were completed on August for the 2009 Football Season.[5]

Drawing of Phase II East End addition fully enclosing Kenan Stadium

Phase II and the Blue Zone

Due to the economic woes, Baddour and Chancellor Holden Thorp announced that phase II would not begin until after the 2010 season. However updated plans were revealed on October 2, 2009 for $70-85 million in renovations to Kenan Stadium[6] Phase II will comprise of tearing down Kenan Field House and replacing it with the "Carolina Student-Athlete Center for Excellence." This facility will be a combination of an academic center, "Carolina Leadership Academy", Olympic sports' strength and conditioning center, and visitor lockers within a span of two floors.[7] [8]

However the most significantly visible portion of the renovation will be the addition of 3,230 seats, turning the stadium into a bowl. The additional seats in the end zone, named the Blue Zone, will be "1,986 seats in the Concourse Club just a few feet from the field, 924 seats in the Upper Club/Loge on the fourth floor and 320 seats in 20 suites on the fifth floor".[9] The individual suites, each of which has 16 seats, will sell for $50,000 per year. Each seat in the club levels range from $1,500 to $2,500 per season. [10] Furthermore the construction of a new concourse in front of the Carolina Student-Athlete Center for Excellence will allow fans to move around the entire perimeter of Kenan Stadium for the first time. The exterior of the new section will be similar in appearance to the Bell Tower.

Interesting Facts

  • The largest crowd to see a game at Kenan--and the largest to see a game on-campus in the state of North Carolina--was a standing-room-only throng of 62,000 when the Tar Heels hosted the Florida State Seminoles in 1997.
Kenan Memorial Stadium
  • The 1983 season saw another first in the stadium - a game played under artificial lights. The North Carolina-Duke game was played in the late afternoon so it could be televised throughout the Atlantic Coast Conference area. Portable lights were brought in since the second half was played after sunset.
  • Part of the 1987-88 project were a permanent lighting system, a chancellor's lounge on the north side of the field and a football lettermen's lounge on the south side. The lights are part of a General Electric low-mount system which minimizes the height of the lightpoles. Cost of the entire project was $7 million. It was funded by private gifts and bonds.
  • The 1991 season opener versus Cincinnati and the Clemson game, which was televised nationally by ESPN, were the first true night games ever played at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
  • The stadium's sight lines have always been very good. The field is approximately four feet below the stands, and the rise to the stands is very steep. The end zone is only 20 feet from the field, and the sideline seats are only 50 feet from the field. Most of the west end zone and three sections of the south stands are reserved for students. The student section of the west end zone is popularly known as the "Tar Pit"--a name applied to the entire stadium during the late 1990s.
  • Since 2007, fireworks have been shot from atop Kenan Field House whenever the Tar Heels take the field, as well as after every score and win.
  • While tickets are not nearly as hard to find as those for the basketball team, the Tar Heels sold out every game from 1992 to 1999, and have sold out every game since Butch Davis' arrival in 2007.

See also


External links


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