Kenan Memorial Stadium – North Carolina Tar Heels
Tar Heels Turf
Kenan Memorial Stadium has been home to the University of North Carolina football program since 1927. It has been called one of the most picturesque settings for a football stadium in the country. This beauty has been preserved through a covenant that states that the stadium height cannot exceed the height of the pine trees surrounding it. Expansion of the stadium must wait for the trees to grow, or as UNC has done–build additional seating areas behind the end zones where they previously had not existed.
Over the last 90 years, the stadium has gone through numerous renovations, with the latest taking place in 2011. This renovation included the construction of the Loudermilk Center for Excellence and the “Blue Zone.” The Blue Zone allowed the stadium to add 1,836 seats at the concourse level, 824 seats at the Club Level and 320 seats spread out over 20 luxury suites at the top level. This brings the total capacity of Kenan Memorial Stadium to 63,000 seats, and more importantly, allowed the stadium concourse to finally go 360 degrees around the stadium, greatly enhancing the flow of fans around the facility.
The Tar Heel football program has done its stadium proud, with 5 ACC Conference Championships and 14 victories in bowl games. Some of the top players in the NFL played their college years on Kenan’s natural turf field. They include Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice, Mitch Trubisky, Julius Peppers, and Lawrence Taylor. Notable UNC football coaches over the years have included Mack Brown, Butch Davis, and Bill Dooley.
Food & Beverage 4
Kenan Stadium has enhanced its concessions programs in recent years by hiring ARAMARK to manage its food and beverage offerings. This has resulted in a mix of stands featuring national brands, as well as some local favorites. Fans can choose their meals from outlets of Chick-fil-A, Papa John’s Pizza, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chronic Tacos, Backyard BBQ, Ben and Jerry’s, and Maui Wowi Smoothies.
Local stands with a presence at Kenan include Hampton Farm Peanuts, Al’s Burger Shack, Bojangles Fried Chicken, and Merritt’s Grill’s famous BLT sandwiches. The Tar Heels feature Coca-Cola brand sodas and bottled water. No alcohol is allowed in Kenan Memorial Stadium.
The atmosphere at Tar Heel games is truly magical. This starts with the benefit of having the stadium in the middle of one of the prettiest and oldest (1789) college campuses in the country. UNC has one of the best tailgating areas in the country under the pine trees surrounding the stadium. Over the years the university has developed some great pregame traditions.
The traditions include the Victory Walk featuring the team, the cheerleaders and the Marching Tar Heel Band from the iconic Bell Tower to the Kenan Football Center, the Tar Heel Town Funfest located at Polk Place on campus and one of the most engaging mascots in the NCAA, Rameses the Ram. Carolina also has some very memorable lyrics in its fight song: “I’m a Tar Hell born, and a Tar Heel Bred…. And When I Die I’m a Tar Heel Dead!”
The design of Kenan Memorial Stadium also enhances the atmosphere at games. The sight lines are excellent, as the field is located 4 feet below the stands. The first row of seats in the end zones are only 20 feet from the playing field and the sideline seats are only 50 feet from the field of play. The student section is separate from the alums and families to allow them to express themselves more passionately (this section is known as the “Tar Pit”).
It truly is hard to separate the University of North Carolina from the town of Chapel Hill, as Franklin Street is all that divides them. While Kenan Stadium is mid-campus, the town truly forms the neighborhood for it. Despite the growth of UNC over the years (19,000 undergraduate students) the town of Chapel Hill has been able to maintain its small-town charm. It is only the 15th largest city in the state of North Carolina population wise. The downtown area across Franklin Street from the campus quad is still made up of the mom and pop stores that were there 20 years ago. More than 200 restaurants, shops, and bars make up the very vibrant area.
Bon Appetit Magazine has dubbed Chapel Hill as “America’s Foodiest Small Town.” Two places to check out that declaration are Top of the Hill (TOPO) and Might as Well. TOPO is a combination restaurant, brewery and back bar overlooking Franklin Street, while Might as Well (the Old Well is a UNC landmark) is a highly recommended bar and grill.
Chapel Hill is also known for its music scene. A young James Taylor grew up in Chapel Hill, forming the basis for two of his top hits… “Carolina in My Mind” and “Copperline” (a small creek that flowed past his boyhood home). Today that music heritage is found at Cat’s Cradle, a concert venue in the adjoining town of Carrboro.
One other attraction you might want to visit while in Chapel Hill relates to another popular sport on campus. The Carolina Basketball Museum looks at the round ball history of UNC from the days of Frank McGuire to the glory years of Dean Smith to the continuing success of the Tar Heels under Roy Williams. It can be found in the Williamson Athletic Center next door to Dean Dome on campus.
To learn more about Chapel Hill, visit www.visitchapelhill.com
While UNC fans may be more passionate about the basketball program, they have not forgotten the football program. Each Saturday they don their “Carolina Blue” attire and head over to Kenan Stadium for a day of fun, fellowship, and football. Visiting fans often comment on how welcoming and friendly the Tar Heel fans are. The UNC tailgates are legendary, and they often ask the opposition to join them for some tasty North Carolina-style BBQ.
Once the game starts, the stands are a sea of blue as the UNC fans are at their full-throated best. This is especially true when the “in-laws” from Raleigh or Durham are in town.
If there is a weak spot to Kenan Memorial Stadium, it is in the area of access. This is to be expected in a nearly 90-year old stadium that has been put together piecemeal over the years due to the height covenants. One of the main complaints over the years has been the lack of legroom in the stands and the uncomfortable aluminum bench seating that has been dominant in the stadium over the years. The school has addressed this problem with the installation of 34,000 new chair back seats prior to the 2018 season. Restrooms are another problem area, as many can only be accessed via a winding staircase.
The other major accessibility issue is transportation, as the stadium is in the middle of the campus, which has many narrow and winding streets. Compounding this problem is the fact that Chapel Hill is a relatively small town whose population doubles on game days. UNC and the City of Chapel Hill utilize a variety of methods to mitigate these issues with some success. First, all parking areas on campus are open by 8 am on game days, helping to spread out the traffic somewhat.
There are five on campus parking lots/decks designated for special event parking, with pre-paying the parking encouraged to save time. The Chapel Hill Transit System runs Tar Heel Express buses from satellite areas off campus every 15 minutes. Parking at these satellite lots is free, with the bus system providing round trips at a cost of $5. Unfortunately, the drop off point on campus is still a ½ mile from the stadium.
Return on Investment 3
In recent years Tar Heel games have not been sellouts, giving fans a little breathing room on prices. Exceptions to this rule are games involving UNC’s Research Triangle neighbors at Duke University and NC State or a big game opponent such as Florida State. Non-ACC games can be had for $25. Parking in an on campus lot on game day will run you $10-$15.
Parking in satellite lots off campus is free, but the bus shuttle system charges $5 per person round trip. Concessions are reasonably priced, as they are not marked up over what you would pay off campus. Hotels in the Chapel Hill area are usually booked full well in advance, but reasonable lodging can be found near the RDU Airport a few miles away.
The Charlie Justice UNC Hall of Honor is located on the ground floor of the Kenan Football Center. This facility offers you a multimedia look at the history and traditions of Tar Heel football. It is not open on game days but is well worth a look on the other days of the week.
The fall colors are brilliant in late September and early November on the UNC campus. The Botanical Garden on campus is located very close to Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Chapel Hill is one your classic college towns in the south, where the entire town comes to a stop on football Saturdays. Every storefront is decked out in Carolina blue and the stores close at noon, as everyone heads to Kenan Memorial Stadium to enjoy a lovely fall afternoon cheering on their beloved Tar Heels.
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The Carolina Basketball Museum
450 Skipper Bowles Dr
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Hampton Inn & Suites Durham North I-85
1542 N Gregson St
Durham, NC 27701
Hilton Garden Inn Durham/University Medical Center
2102 W Main St
Durham, NC 27705
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Latest Crowd Reviews
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A friend of mine said the scenic view at Kenan Stadium was magnificent. Of course, he hadn&#039t gone until the venue added seating to both end zones, thus knocking out those views. And because of it, the place just seemed like it was a nondescript, dull football stadium all around. POSITIVES: Well, I guess the seating was fine as there aren&#039t any nosebleeds to deal with. Maybe the neatness of the South end zone concourse also helps. NEGATIVES: First, getting there is a hassle as you get traffic jams miles away from the stadium to find parking, which is also a hassle, albeit okay with pricing for parking (10). The stadium architecture just looks out of date as it really doesn&#039t feel warming or anything that stands out. Your food selections are chicken from BoJangles, BBQ, and the typical standard food fare. Nothing more than that. The inside of the place I guess has character with the added wings, but had more character with the Carolina woods before that. Overall, I was let down by the place as a whole. One of the more disappointing venues around. Going to Duke&#039s Wallace Wade Stadium is a better option actually.