CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The charm of the Carolinas sits comfortably just outside the city. It is guarded on every side by a towering sculpture of a menacing panther.
When the city opened Ericsson Stadium five years ago, it was considered an architectural wonder because the new home of the Panthers had the intimate feel of a high-school stadium despite its 73,250-seat capacity.
The NFL also marveled because owner Jerry Richardson needed very little public assistance to fund his $187 million facility.
Charlotte contributed $58 million to the construction of roads, parking garage, practice fields and landscaping, while Richardson funded the rest primarily by selling 60,000 personal seat licenses and the naming rights to LM Ericsson Co.
"It's the model I would hold out," NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said at the time. "I hope the country will look at this as one Jerry Richardson and the leaders of Charlotte used in building what is the best football stadium in America."
Since its construction, six cities have built new football stadiums for their NFL teams, and five more will open within the next two years.
All of them are offsprings of Ericsson Stadium, which revolutionized the way football stadiums are being built, much like Baltimore's Camden Yards changed baseball parks.
"We certainly toured there, as well as a dozen other stadiums before deciding on which direction to take here," said Kelly Kerns, the senior project manager for Ellerbe Becket, the design team for the new Seahawk stadium. "Several of the new stadiums have added their own one-upmanship since Ericsson was built, and we're no different."
Seattle demolished the Kingdome in March and immediately began constructing a $430 million stadium that is expected to become the new showpiece of the downtown skyline, if not the entire NFL community.
Like Ericsson Stadium, the new Seahawk facility will be financed publicly and privately. Seattle will contribute up to $300 million through a new lottery and a variety of taxes generated by events in the stadium and adjoining exhibition center. Seahawk owner Paul Allen will contribute $130 million. He's responsible for cost overruns.
Two years from completion, the outer ridges are beginning to take shape.
The stadium's chief designer, James Poulson, lives in Seattle and his firm also was responsible for Portland's Rose Garden and Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The most endearing characteristic of the new Seahawk stadium will likely be the entryway on the north side that will feature a 12- to 13-story tower with a scoreboard at the top and 3,000 bleacher seats at the base.
"Part of the inspiration there came from the towers in Seattle," Kerns said. "There's Smith Tower and the tower across the street at train station. We wanted to do a vertical scoreboard element instead of traditional, horizontal scoreboard orientation, which would block the views to downtown."
In fact, that's the selling point of the 67,000-seat facility that features 82 luxury suites and club seating for 7,000.
Every angle inside the stadium offers an unobstructed view to the playing field, and designers are considering amenities such as wider, more comfortable chairs that feature laptop-computer screens for interactive viewing at the club level.
The luxury suites are equipped with state-of-the-art retractable glass panels, as well as two televisions, stereo system and other highlights. Stadium designers have placed suites on the field directly behind the north end zone to provide an in-your-face experience.
"No other NFL stadium has that type of suite," said Duane McLean, Seahawk vice president of marketing operations. "That's totally unique and one of a kind."
There are other quirks to the stadium, including a so-called "Hawk Nest" intended to mimic the infamous "Dawg Pound" at Cleveland Stadium. To attract fans to this area, game officials will allow any footballs that leave the field to remain in the stands.
A concourse level much like Safeco Field will allow fans to stroll throughout the building.
But for the open-air stadium to become a hit with Seahawk fans, it will have to appease a crowd that's grown accustomed to the cozy confines of the Kingdome the past 24 years.
Because of the roof's design, 70 percent of the stadium will be covered, leaving the end-zone seats and grass surface exposed.
"This is a totally original plan, but it does owe some inspiration to Husky Stadium in that regard," Kerns said. "The concept starts from looking at . . . the environment - where the water is and where the downtown is.
"We looked at Pioneer Square and existing buildings, as well as taking into consideration what was happening at Safeco Field. So you take all of that into consideration and this is what we came up with."
Six NFL stadiums have opened since Ericsson Stadium debuted in 1995, and five more are under construction. Here's a look:
Tenant: Washington Redskins
Where: Washington, D.C.
Raymond James Stadium
Tenant: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tenant: Baltimore Ravens
Tenant: Tennessee Titans
Where: Nashville, Tenn.
Cleveland Browns Stadium
Tennant: Cleveland Browns
Paul Brown Stadium
Tenant: Cincinnati Bengals
Still to come
New Broncos Stadium #
Tenant: Denver Broncos
New Steelers Stadium #
Tenant: Pittsburgh Steelers
Tenant: New England Patriots
Where: Foxboro, Mass.
Harris County Stadium
Tenant: Houston Texans
New Seahawk Stadium #
Tenant: Seattle Seahawks
# Stadium name undetermined
A point of comparison
How the Seahawks' new stadium compares with the Kingdome and Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte:
Kingdome Seahawk stadium Ericsson Stadium
Date opened 1976 2002 1995
Cost of construction $69 million $430 million $187 million
Playing surface Artificial Undetermined Grass
Seating capacity 66,403 67,000 73,250
Luxury suits 58 82 157
Club seats None 7,000 11,360