At the end of lengthy meeting Tuesday night, Asheville city council awarded the naming rights to what is now the U.S. Cellular Center to Harrah’s Cherokee. On January 1st of next year, the facility will be called Harrah's Cherokee Center Asheville. The complex includes the ExploreAsheville.com Arena, the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, and an exhibition hall and a banquet hall.
The council voted 6-1 on the decision, with council member Julie Mayfield casting the lone dissenting vote. Last week, the Asheville Downtown Commission voted 6-1 to recommend awarding the naming rights to Harrah's. City council member Brian Haynes cast the lone dissenting vote then, but ended up voting for the switch at Tuesday's council meeting.
The city’s current agreement with U.S. Cellular for the naming rights of what was once the Asheville Civic Center expires at the end of the year. Both U.S. Cellular and Harrah’s made proposals for the naming rights. Harrah’s offer was worth more than three times as much ($3.25 million for five years), and U.S. Cellular Center general manager Chris Corl said the additional funds would allow for significant upgrades at the facility. In particular, the ExploreAsheville.com Arena needs new video boards, which the Harrah's proposal pays for. "We're going to be needing that very shortly if we want to continue hosting the Southern Conference basketball championships, or going after similar large sporting events," Corl told city council before Tuesday's vote. The Southern Conference has played both its men's and women's championship basketball tournaments at the facility since 2012, and in the past two years the ExploreAsheville.com arena has also played host to the opening round of the Fed Cup women's tennis tournament. Corl said the additional funds could also kickstart a campaign to pay for signficant renovations to the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium.