SBD/November 14, 2013/Facilities

Browns Unveil Two-Year, $120M Plan For FirstEnergy Stadium Upgrades

FirstEnergy Stadium would drop 3,000 seats to make way for a giant scoreboard
The Browns yesterday announced a two-year plan to deliver $120M in "upgrades to the 'fan experience' at the city-owned FirstEnergy Stadium -- including a new scoreboard, audio equipment and physical changes that would allow fans to move about more freely," according to a front-page piece by Leila Atassi of the Cleveland PLAIN DEALER. But the question of who will "foot the bill for the improvements is yet to be answered." Browns CEO Joe Banner "declined to discuss financing" yesterday, revealing "only that the organization has acquired what amounts to a loan from the NFL that could cover about half of the expense." Banner "implied that the cost of improvements would not directly affect ticket prices." He added that all financing questions "will be answered in due time, as the Browns continue talks" with Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and meet with the City Council. The Browns "hope to begin work on the stadium as soon as the season concludes." Banner said that the upgrades "would take two off-seasons to complete." The Browns in the first year would "install two high-definition scoreboards that are nearly triple the size of those currently in the stadium." The proposal also "calls for LED video boards, which would show stats, scores and other information." A new audio system will "replace the original one, promising to deliver dramatically improved sound stadium-wide." Banner said that the stadium would "lose about 3,000 seats to make way for the giant scoreboard -- dropping capacity to about 68,000." Also, about 2,000 upper-bowl seats "will move to the lower deck," and fans "will see two new escalators installed by next season." The Browns in '15 plan on "improving general-admission concession areas, with locally-based offerings." So-called "premium areas" of the stadium would "see upgrades, as well, including refurbished club seats and suites and more top-level entertainment" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 11/14).

THE GREAT OUTDOORS: Banner said that the team "has ruled out the possibilities of putting a roof on the stadium -- which he said would've been a 'nine-figure investment' -- and replacing the grass field with artificial turf after exploring both options." In Akron, Nate Ulrich notes Banner also "revealed that the Browns privately discussed building a new stadium but ultimately decided to invest in the one they've been playing in since it opened in 1999." Banner said that the Browns "hope the project could attract other events such as concerts and soccer games to the stadium" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 11/14). Also in Akron, Marla Ridenour writes yesterday's announcement was the "first step toward giving fans what they have long deserved -- a state-of-the-art venue with some of the amenities taken for granted in other NFL cities." FirstEnergy Stadium will "never be a palace to compare" to AT&T Stadium. But the upgrades "will be a huge start." Browns President Alec Scheiner also said that Wi-Fi "would be considered" (AKRON BEACON JOURNAL, 11/14).

WHO SHOULD PAY WHAT? In Cleveland, Terry Pluto writes the Browns "have several key people who have been involved in building stadiums in other cities." Pluto: "I'm all for whatever the Browns want to do to the stadium, assuming they pay for most of it." The Browns have a $62.5M loan from the NFL for stadium improvements, which "covers up to 50 percent of the project." What the Browns "can't do is go to the city and say, 'OK, let's go 50-50,' and expect the city to pay" about $60M. Banner said that the Browns "plan to make a 'significant investment' in the stadium." Pluto: "And they should do exactly that" (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 11/14). ESPN.com's Pat McManamon wrote the Browns "never said they were asking the city for money," and it is "logical to think the mayor deserves to know first." But it also is "logical to think it would be a wise PR move to generate enthusiasm about the improvements before asking for money" (ESPN.com, 11/13).
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