Charlotte real estate magnate Smoky Bissell is donating $25 million to UNC Charlotte to help fund an $81 million expansion of the football stadium that will double seating capacity to 30,000.
Bissell’s commitment, which the school recently confirmed, was dependent on the school matching that amount, a problem solved last week when the N.C. legislature tucked a $25 million allocation for the school’s athletic department into the $30 billion state budget.
“This is a transformational challenge gift from Smoky and Margaret Bissell — the largest in our program’s history, and we are grateful for their incredible generosity,” Hill told CBJ. “We are also extremely thankful for the state’s appropriation, which puts us in scoring position. We still have fundraising to do to get across the goal line, and with the Charlotte community’s help, we can get there.”
Charlotte philanthropists H.C. “Smoky” and Margaret Gragg Bissell certainly understand the power of giving to transform lives and cities. They have given generously to the University for many years. Their largest gift made in 2020 of $10 million to the UNC Charlotte Foundation supported the areas of greatest need at the University and brought their total giving to nearly $14.5 million.
In a conversation earlier, Smoky explained why he and Margaret view their gifts to the University not only as an investment in the institution but as an investment in the city, and why they hope others in Charlotte will be inspired to give similarly.
“Everything I have done in my life has to do with people. If I like the people I am encountering and I believe in what they are doing, I will give of my time and resources to help put them on the map and give them what they need. “
“UNC Charlotte has always been fortunate to have great people. We have had the right leaders at the right time. I have had the good fortune to know Bonnie Cone and Chancellors Colvard, Fretwell, Woodward, Dubois and Gaber; and all of them were exactly who this institution needed at the moment in time they served.””
“The University has exceptional staff and faculty. The collaboration crossover education from one department to another is exemplary. For example, you may see the Physics and English departments working together on research or teaching projects. These types of collaborations are evidence of a healthy, productive organization with good people in it. “
“Margaret was in education for 40 years, most notably at Charlotte Country Day School, and I began my career as a teacher in California before moving to Charlotte. We understand and value the power of education to shape a person, a family and a community. “
When I was in ninth grade, I sat with the head of my school at lunch. He looked at me and asked, “Bissell, what have you learned today?” I was left speechless by the question and embarrassed by my lack of answer. I vowed no one would ever be able to ask me that question without an answer again. From that day forward, I became a continuous learner.
Throughout my life, I have benefited from the power of education, and I hope our investments will allow that same opportunity for others.
“I was in the real estate business, and I learned very quickly that I lived off the health of the community. If Charlotte wasn’t vibrant and growing, I had no business. “
“There are some critical entities to support a thriving city. Among them are banking, medical, an international airport and a research university. UNC Charlotte is our city’s research university, and their success is our success. “
“The University is educating our future workforce and is helping drive economic impact through research discoveries. UNC Charlotte puts our city on the map for talent.”
I challenge everyone to stretch themselves to give to organizations that matter. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have made pledges that I really couldn’t afford, but because I believed strongly that something was right and worth supporting, I stepped out on faith. Somehow, I always found a way to fulfill my commitments, sometimes through unexpected means. Margaret and I are now in a place where we can do more, and we are honored to exercise that ability.
“I always get more than I give and think others will find that is true from their gifts to the University.”
Smoky Bissell is the founder of Bissell Companies and the visionary leader behind Ballantyne, developing more than four million square feet of Class A commercial office space, four hotels and an 18-hole daily fee golf course. Before conceptualizing Ballantyne, he and his partners developed more than two million square feet of commercial office space in SouthPark, among numerous other large-scale hotel and commercial real estate projects. Prior to becoming a licensed real estate broker in North Carolina, Smoky held positions as a teacher in California and an officer in the U.S. Navy.
A longtime champion of UNC Charlotte, he is a former member and eight-year chair of the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees and the UNC Charlotte Foundation Board. During his time as chairman of the Board of Trustees, he chaired the $100 million “It Takes a Gift” campaign that raised $116 million for the University. He also served as a Levine Scholars Community Board member and continues to serve on the advisory board of the Childress Klein Center for Real Estate in the Belk College of Business.
Margaret Gragg Bissell was a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools high school teacher for seven years and subsequently served Country Day School for 32 years, including 17 years as head of school until her retirement in 2009. Among her many accomplishments as a leader in education were the development of Country Day’s International Baccalaureate degree program and the establishment of the offices of Diversity Planning and International Studies. During those 17 years, she simultaneously served six years on the board of the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools, including two terms as president.
Together, they have been recognized by countless civic organizations for their support and leadership, including as joint recipients of the World Affairs Council World Citizen Award.