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 at Chapel Hill. 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.
Funding for the stadium was originally supposed to come from alumni donations. However, Miami industrialist 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.
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 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 wasn't expanded until 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.
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.
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 leapt to 57,800 in 1997. The other 2,200 seats were added in 1998, bringing the stadium to its current capacity of 60,000. The latest addition to Kenan was a $2 million scoreboard with video capability that debuted for the 2003 season.
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 end zone and three sections of the south stands are reserved for students.
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. 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.
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 "there's a point where you don't have a hard ticket and you can't fill it." 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.
Earlier, 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.
As of July 23, 2008, Kenan Stadium has been approved for a $50 Million Phase 1 renovation that will add two floors to the western end of the complex comprising of one floor of offices and one floor of luxury suites. The anticipated start of construction date is after the 2008 football season and the completion is season opening 2009. Phase 2, which includes the closure of the east end into an offical bowl and the athletic education support center, is not yet approved by the board of trustees.