SBJ/September 15 - 21, 2003/Facilities

Lambeau leaps into the future

Two hours before the kickoff of Green Bay's Sept. 7 regular-season opener at renovated Lambeau Field, green-and-gold-clad fans lined up outside the new 11,500-square-foot Packers Pro Shop just to buy more merchandise declaring their undying loyalty to the Pack.

The focus was not on the field, where the Packers would later lose to the Minnesota Vikings, but it was still on football. That's just what the Packers and their design partners planned for their $295 million, 29-month renovation of the 46-year-old stadium: a place where football fans could have fun — and spend money — outside the boundaries of Packers games and even the NFL season.

Pack’s new atrium a fan magnet

Team officials aimed to transform a storied stadium that was showing its age into an all-inclusive entity and year-round destination that could boost the Packers' brand and significantly improve the team's economic standing in major pro sports' smallest market.

"I think it's very special because it is Green Bay and because we have such a deep and loyal and national fan base. We'd love to think we've paved a new direction in the way we've packaged everything," said John Jones, executive vice president and chief operating officer.

The new 366,000-square-foot, five-story Lambeau Field Atrium, adjoining the stadium, is the centerpiece of the plan to make the historic facility a draw for more than 10 Sundays a year.

Inside the brick-and-glass atrium, the relocated Packers Hall of Fame, showcasing artifacts ranging from a 10-year-old girl's Green Bay logo retainer to a cigar butt chomped by linebacker Ray Nitschke, plus the Legends Club banquet rooms, Packers Pro Shop and Curly's Pub will help draw upwards of 3 million patron visits a year, said Stuart Zadra, project director for the Hammes Co., representing the Packers.

The record crowd of 70,505 on opening day jammed the atrium attractions, with the exception of the Hall of Fame, which opened to the public a day later. Points of sale increased 20 percent to 25 percent over 2002, and Levy Restaurants reported $11.50 concession per caps and $21.67 a head for premium food on the club level, excluding the 166 private boxes and restaurant sales.

"In a global sense, we're 20 percent higher for game one of this year vs. last year," said Steve Klegon, director of atrium business development and a former Levy regional VP.

On this opening day, one could follow the line of fans entering the Packers Pro Shop, which stretched outside the doors of the atrium all the way to the Robert E. Harlan Plaza, named for the Packers president and CEO. That area features 14-foot statues of former coaches Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi, both of whom "posed" for numerous photos.

A look inside the atrium, where new dining options abound for Packers fans.

Lines were long at the only ATM in the atrium, which eventually ran out of cash, and other bottlenecks were evident outside the old retail shop and other fixed novelty stands on the first-floor concourse.

Fans also had not yet learned to make use of all the improvements. On the main concourse, where the renovations included additional rest rooms, one men's rest room was clearly open at halftime while another one about 100 feet away had a line out the entrance.

Zadra said the Packers are considering installing additional ATMs. He added that it would take awhile for fans to get acclimated to the new layout. "Everybody wanted to get their souvenirs devoted to the rededication," he said. "They're also not yet accustomed to going to the upper concourse, simply because there wasn't one there before."

New scoreboards and rebuilt luxury suites top the Lambeau Field bowl.

Otherwise, it was relatively easy to maneuver in the 60 to 90 minutes before kickoff. Despite the new attractions, Packer Nation continues its long-standing tradition of spending quality tailgating time in the parking lots, which opened at 8 a.m., an hour earlier than last season. The stadium gates also opened earlier than usual.

The majority of the crowd were in their seats by kickoff as country singers Joe Diffie, Tracy Lawrence and David Kersh sang the national anthem. The three recording artists performed the night before at the "Rebirth of a Legend" celebration in the stadium with 33,899 in attendance.

As the Vikings took control of the game, a few food concession workers came out from behind the counter to watch the action on mounted TV monitors.

Expansion of the main concourse's maximum width from 80 feet to 150 feet provided ample room for emergency and security vehicles that had faced a tighter squeeze in old Lambeau. During the first quarter, a local policeman rode his bicycle. Later, cops operating a golf-cart-style "mini paddy wagon," red lights flashing and siren blaring, hauled away two overimbibing Packers fans, their bellies spray-painted yellow.

Throughout the game, ticket holders embraced the creature comforts of Curly's Pub in the atrium, named and themed for Lambeau, the team's 1919 founder and original coach. The sports bistro includes football skill competitions designed by Jack Rouse Associates.

The Levy-operated bar and restaurant was noticeably busy during the second half despite losing the live game feed because of technical problems, glitches Klegon said have been resolved. Some patrons said they escaped to air-conditioned Curly's to beat the heat in the seating bowl, created by 70,000 crammed together in the sunny 70-degree weather on metal bleachers (parts of the old stadium may have been gentrified, but it still has its throwback qualities).

Brick and glass mark the new exterior work.

Others may have opted to taste alternative stadium fare such as the walleye Caesar sandwich, cheese and brat soup and the mountainous Frozen Tundra Landslide ice cream cake. The fact that the Vikings had a comfortable lead until the final moments was probably also a factor.

Despite the focus on making the Sunday experience better for the consumer, the renovation also focused on improving the facility's functionality during non-game days.

Klegon said there are already three dozen weddings planned at Lambeau Field. Most are scheduled in the 450-capacity Legends Club, divisible by four rooms named for Packers legends Paul Hornung, Willie Davis, Bart Starr and Johnny "Blood" McNally. The first of several local fund-raisers booked on the atrium's first floor accommodated 700 people, including Packers stars past and present, during a week of festivities leading up to opening day.

"The thing that is most pleasing to us is that we have an excellent mix and balance of business segments with the social, corporate and associations. We're not putting all our eggs in one basket," said Klegon.

Proving the power of the Packers brand, the Lambeau Field event calendar began filling up as soon as the public realized what the facility had to offer, according to Klegon. About 300 functions are scheduled through 2007.

Fans beat the heat at the new Curly’s Pub, named for team founder Curly Lambeau.

"Quite honestly, we haven't implemented a solid marketing program yet," he said.

Jones, who oversaw the two-year-plus renovation, acknowledges that the team's tradition allowed it to renovate Lambeau into a year-round destination site, helping to establish a 12-month revenue source.

But while the all-encompassing Lambeau Field could be the blueprint for other NFL franchises to follow, Jones admits that the culture surrounding the Packers mystique would probably be hard to duplicate.

"That business model could be copied by everyone, but each team would have to do their market research," Jones said. "Lambeau Field is one of the historic places in all of sport, so we have an advantage that others wouldn't have in that regard."

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