CLEVELAND: The Browns will still play their home games outdoors and on grass, but significant changes will be made to FirstEnergy Stadium in each of the next two years if the organization’s wishes are granted.
The Browns unveiled their plans Wednesday afternoon for a two-year, $120 million renovation project designed to modernize the city-owned stadium in each of the next two offseasons. Construction would start in January, pending city approval.
Browns CEO Joe Banner said 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. The proposal instead calls for new scoreboards, a new sound system, additional escalators and the transfer of seating from the upper bowl to the lower bowl.
Banner 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.
“I think we all understand that FirstEnergy Stadium is 15 years old, and it’s in need of modernization,” Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said during a news conference at the stadium.
Banner declined to specify how the project would be paid for, though he said the team would “make a significant investment.” The NFL approved a $62.5 million low-interest loan for stadium improvements in October when the owners met in Washington.
Browns representatives will pitch their proposal for the enhancements to the Cleveland City Planning Commission today and will meet later with Mayor Frank Jackson and City Council.
The proposal calls for the following changes in 2014:
• Installation of two new video scoreboards, nearly triple the size of the boards currently in each end zone, and a new audio system.
• LED video boards throughout the stadium, which would feature stats, scores and information.
• Increasing the lower bowl’s seating capacity and removing seats in the upper bowl. The stadium seats about 71,000, excluding standing-room-only, and that number would drop to about 68,000 upon completion of the project, Banner said. The Dawg Pound seats in the lower bowl would not be changed, he said.
• Installation of two new escalators in both the north and south end zones. There would be 12 escalators providing access to stadium levels upon completion.
The proposal also calls for the following changes in 2015:
• Improvements to general-admission concession areas.
• Modernizing premium areas, including upgrading club seats and suites.
• Installing new graphics honoring the Browns’ history and current players throughout the stadium and its concourses.
• Continuing to examine cellphone service at the stadium and the possibility of adding WiFi.
• Adding lighting throughout the concourses.
Banner said the team will continue to evaluate ticket prices at the end of every season, but they wouldn’t be affected by the proposed stadium enhancements.
The Browns hope the project could attract other events such as concerts and soccer games to the stadium, Banner said.
The Browns completed a $5 million, four-month renovation project at their headquarters in Berea earlier this year and have now shifted their focus to improving the stadium.
“I think it’s exceptionally important, and it’s all part of creating a world-class organization,” Haslam said. “It starts with people and then it goes to facilities. I know a lot of you have seen what we’ve done in Berea to make Berea a better a place for our players and for our team members to work, and now I think we’ve taken the most significant step in giving our fans a great place to watch football.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.