SBJ/Nov. 25-Dec. 1, 2013/Facilities

Renovation will allow Browns to put their stamp on stadium

Don Muret
The Cleveland Browns’ plan to renovate FirstEnergy Stadium during the next two years addresses major upgrades to a building whose design was halfway complete before original franchise owner Al Lerner came on board in September 1998.

In the late 1990s, Populous, then HOK Sport, started designing the $300 million stadium 18 months before the city was officially awarded an NFL expansion team, said Dennis Wellner, a senior principal with the firm.

As a result, when the stadium opened in 1999 it did not have the level of finishes and amenities of NFL facilities in markets where team owners have influence over the project from start to finish.

Larger, updated video boards are part of the $120 million plan for FirstEnergy Stadium.
Image by: GENSLER
“The league told [the city of Cleveland] they had to put it together fast,” said Ron Turner, Gensler’s principal-in-charge for the stadium upgrades. “When you don’t have a client, that makes it hard to personalize a stadium and you end up with some generic elements. I don’t blame the architect.”

As stadium design and technology has evolved over the past 15 years, the facility has gone largely untouched, including the stadium’s two video boards. Consultants say technology tied to HD-quality video boards can be rendered obsolete in half that time.

Under Jimmy Haslam, the Browns’ owner since August 2012, the team has mapped out a $120 million renovation covering, among other things, new and much larger video boards, more escalators and 2,000 new seats filling in the open corners on the south side of the lower bowl.

In the upper deck, the Browns will lose a few thousand seats because of the boards’ increased size. All told, the renovation will shrink total seating to 68,000 seats, down from the current 71,000.

The Browns are looking for those new boards and an improved sound system to provide a powerful combination that helps get the crowd excited on game days, said Joe Banner, the team’s CEO.

Banner’s favorite NFL stadium is CenturyLink Field in Seattle, and his vision is to create the same level of intensity in Cleveland that has made the Seahawks’ venue one of the league’s toughest places to play for opponents.

Separately, the Browns have issued a proposal for general concessions at FirstEnergy Stadium and expect to select a food provider in the next three months. The contract of Delaware North Sportservice, the team’s vendor, runs through the 2013 season.

Aramark took over the stadium’s premium dining last year and formed a new company called Cleveland Browns Hospitality Group that brought signature items from three of the city’s best-known chefs into the suites and clubs.
 
Team officials expect more local flavors to spread to general concessions as food service firms make their pitch for the contract, Banner said. Upgrading concession stands on the public concourses is part of the renovation’s second phase, to be completed prior to the 2015 season.

The new video boards, additional lower bowl seats and escalators will be installed before next season.

> WILY COYOTE: Monty Jones takes over as Global Spectrum’s general manager of Jobing.com Arena, home of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes, after spending the past five years at the Augusta (Ga.) Entertainment Complex, which includes James Brown Arena. Jones will start his new job Dec. 1.

Jones
Jones’ résumé also covers stops at two college arenas, South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena and Chicago State’s Emil Jones Convocation Center, as well as indoor football teams in Raleigh and Fayetteville, N.C. The 33-year-old Jones is a native of Tarboro, N.C.

In addition, Tim Landis moves across the street from University of Phoenix Stadium to become assistant general manager at Jobing.com Arena. The arena’s marketing director, Georgieann Michels, comes from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Tim Johnson, director of finance, was most recently at the Santa Ana Star Center in New Mexico, another Global Spectrum account.

In August, Global Spectrum signed a 15-year deal to manage the facility after reaching an agreement with the NHL and IceArizona Acquisition Co., the Coyotes’ new ownership group.

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @breakground.

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