Asheville looks for new deal on U.S. Cellular Center naming rights

Dillon Davis
The Citizen-Times
Asheville's U.S. Cellular Center might see a name change after its licensing agreement with the telecommunications company ends next year. The city said Monday it has opened up a process to negotiate a new agreement in the best interest of the arena and the city as a whole. A new deal could be in place by January 2020.

ASHEVILLE — The U.S. Cellular Center, a downtown performance venue that has played host to professional tennis and presidential hopefuls, might see a name change after its licensing agreement with the telecommunications company ends next year.

The city, which owns the venue, said Monday it has opened a process to negotiate a new licensing agreement "that is in the best interest of the Civic Center and the city as a whole." City Council approved the existing agreement with U.S. Cellular Inc. in November 2011. It has a total term value of $1.35 million.

The agreement with U.S. Cellular is set to expire Dec. 31, 2019. 

Funding through the licensing agreement helped defray the costs of renovations to the arena, which opened in June 1974. The arena has undergone about $15 million in renovations in the past few years, some of which was buoyed through grants provided by Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority and its Tourism Product Development Fund.


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The Asheville Auditorium, completed in 1940, was incorporated into what became the Asheville Civic Center as the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. This photo is from the late 1960s.

To date, the TDA has spent more than $4 million to fund arena upgrades in three phases beginning in 2010.

New contract would start in 2020

The city said it has enjoyed its eight-year relationship with U.S. Cellular and "hopes to continue a relationship" with the company in the future. It begins the process with a public information meeting Sept. 26 and will conduct meetings with interested parties this fall, according to a Monday news release.

City staffers will present the "best offers" to City Council in spring 2019. It hopes to begin an extension with U.S. Cellular or a new licensee on Jan. 1, 2020.

When the deal first was announced in 2011, Jack Brundige, director of sales for U.S. Cellular in Western North Carolina, said, “We felt this was a great partnership for us and the city."

"It’s all about increasing the fan experience and making it better," Brundige said.

Then-Civic Center director Sam Powers added that "(it's) a good day for Asheville when we have a New York Stock Exchange-listed company wanting to give us money."

As the U.S. Cellular Center, the arena played host to then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016, former Vice President Joe Biden in 2017, tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams in February's Fed Cup in addition to the annual Southern Conference Basketball Championships in March and numerous local high school and college graduation ceremonies.

The city said the venue drew more than 251,000 people last year, a record for the arena which averages about 198,000 attendees annually.