CLEVELAND — The $120 million renovation of FirstEnergy Stadium is on time and on budget, but the site remains an active construction zone.
Browns president Alec Scheiner made those pronouncements Monday as he guided select media members on a tour of the lakefront facility.
“We are totally on schedule to have everything in Phase One done in time for our first home preseason game (Aug. 23 against St. Louis),” Scheiner said while wearing a team-themed hard hat. “We’re also confident that our fans will be impressed with what they see.
“When you walk in a stadium, you need to know what city you’re in. I’m not sure we’ve had that in the past, but there will be no doubt in the future that you’re in Cleveland.”
Since the end of the 2013 season, both upper end zone seating areas have been removed and are in the process of being turned into platforms for the new 1,400-square foot video boards to be placed upon.
The Daktronics video boards will be the fourth-largest in the NFL, according to the company, and are being tested at the company’s South Dakota headquarters. Delivery of its components to Cleveland will begin today.
“It truly will change the entire experience because the things that you take for granted — out-of-town scores and fantasy football information and the like — will be prominent,” Scheiner said. “We’ve also added LED and ribbon boards to complement the presentation.”
The video boards are three times larger than the Daktronics displays that were installed at the then-Cleveland Browns Stadium when it opened in 1999. They will be 32 feet closer to the field and 56 feet lower to the ground than their predecessors, resulting in a net loss of 4,000 seats.
The revised stadium capacity of 68,000 reflects the addition of several thousand seats in the lower deck, where the open corners are being filled in. Unnecessary aisles and entry ways are also being removed, which Scheiner says increases the number of quality seats available for purchase.
“We’ve worked with our season-ticket holders on a one-on-one basis to make sure that everyone who has been relocated was pleased with the process,” he said. “All of those issues have been resolved, and we’re seeing increased demand this season, even though we sold out every game last year.”
Two escalators are being added near the East and West turnstiles to expedite the entry process, while an all-new audio system has already been installed above the upper deck.
Once the super-sized scoreboards are put into place, sponsored fan decks will be built adjacent to them atop the end zone seating areas.
“It’s a more complicated process than building a new stadium, but we’ve got steel being made in eight locations around the country to keep everything running smoothly,” Turner Construction representative John DeWine said. “There was no demolition — just disassembly — because you have to be careful with the existing structure, but everything went just fine.”
Though Scheiner and DeWine stressed there is no concern about the stadium being ready for Week 3 of the NFL preseason, it might not be capable of hosting Cleveland’s annual Family Night practice in early August.
“We are committed to holding an open scrimmage, either here or at another location, this year,” Scheiner said. “Once we finalize our plan, we’ll make that announcement, but there are obvious construction issues that factor into the decision.”
The FirstEnergy Stadium improvement project will continue over the next two offseasons, largely focusing on concession and club areas, along with the concourses.
Aramark has agreed to fund a significant portion of the food-service upgrades as part of its new general concession contract, but Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III and the city of Cleveland are responsible for the bulk of the renovation costs.
“Because this stadium basically hasn’t been touched in 15 years, we’re just trying to get it back up to par in the NFL,” Scheiner said. “When a stadium looks outdated, it almost feels like you’re missing something. We have to make sure we’re totally modern. Jimmy won’t tolerate anything less than giving our fans the experience they deserve.”
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