Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) - Incoming Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III has made it clear that he would like Cleveland Browns Stadium to get a facelift.
Haslam wants to make sure that the Browns are playing in one of the premiere facilities in the NFL.
As the stadium stands today, they are not.
Not by a long shot.
The $349 million price tag was a rip off for taxpayers because Cleveland Browns Stadium was obsolete the day that the gates opened.
Not to mention the fact that the building gets used fewer than 15 times per year.
Kudos to Haslam for recognizing this – although it’s obvious that he is looking to enhance his own revenue streams related to the Browns after dropping a cool billion for them.
The stadium was so poorly designed and funded there wasn’t room for escalators in the budget. That was until the late Al Lerner stepped in and paid for them. Now they are crammed into the corners and stand out like a sore thumb.
The architects and engineers also didn’t include many stairwells – again to save money.
Clearly an NFL team wasn’t consulted in the design of the stadium either – not like how the Indians were consulted about the design of Progressive Field, which took years to finalize the blueprints for.
Hindsight is always 20/20. It is easy to look back and critique the lack of vision and planning after the original Browns relocated to Baltimore and the NFL begrudgingly agreed to return in 1999.
Three years was a very tight window to tear down the old Municipal Stadium and replace it with a modern state of the art facility. The designers did what they could with what funds they had to work with.
Indianapolis did it right when it comes to football – a retractable dome built next to and connected to their convention center.
Cleveland could’ve had the same thing years earlier but took the quick, cheap way out.
Haslam is a smart businessman. As he tours stadiums around the league he is finding out first hand just how much work there is to do on the lakefront – and not just with the product on the field.
In a sit down with Cleveland City Council Wednesday, Haslam was asked about his willingness to explore adding a retractable roof to the stadium by councilman Mike Polensek.
Haslam responded, “One of the first acts that we’ll do and I’ve said this several times, assuming we’re approved, is to bring in, I think there’s three nationally known stadium architects, and you’d be crazy not to talk to all three of them, and get their ideas about the stadium. We are completely open-minded, and we want to provide really two things, one a great experience for our fans at a Browns game. The other thing, secondly, and I assume this is what everybody in this room is interested in, we want to use that facility as much as we possibly can, want to use it more than we can now. So anything that helps us do that, I’m certainly not at all saying we’re gonna do that, but we’ll certainly take a look at.”
The comments opened up Pandora’s box among media and fans alike and the debate returned – to add a roof or not?
Adding a roof or a retractable roof would allow the city to compete for the Big 10 Championship game (played currently in Indianapolis through 2015), college bowl games, the Super Bowl, NCAA regionals and the Final Four just to name a few.
These marquee sporting events could help showcase to the world just what a great city Cleveland is.
If Detroit and Indianapolis can pull off a Super Bowl and Final Four, so can Cleveland.
Sure there’s the debate as to if the city and or region has sufficient hotel rooms to accommodate such events, but what’s wrong with building a few more and exploring what it would take to lure the events to town?
Haslam has a chance to get it right after it was done wrong in the first place.
A retractable roof would require significant engineering work because the existing stadium structure wasn’t designed or built to be able to support one.
The purists and traditionalists maintain that the Browns should always play in open air and on natural grass because that’s the way the game was meant to be played.
“I’ve played games in this league in a lot of different venues – most of them open air, some domes,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “I think there’s advantages to both. I like the setting that we present on game day here.”
Well plenty of other cities have no problem playing under roofs and on field turf so why would it be different here?
This isn’t 1964 anymore.
“I think some of the charm, at least what I’ve experienced so far here in Cleveland, is the late season, wintery setting,” Shurmur said.
Well, that charming wintery home field advantage of playing outside has helped win 1 football game in 13 plus years – an 8-0 triumph Dec. 16, 2007 vs. Buffalo.
That is a fact.
So why not put a roof on Cleveland Browns Stadium?
As radical as it seems, maybe Haslam should look at building his own retractable roof stadium somewhere else in the city. Cleveland could then sell off the land that the existing stadium sits on to developers and turn the hotly debated lakefront development from fantasy to reality.
Granted, the Browns have a better chance at winning Super Bowl XLVII in February than that happening but it’s an idea.
The one question that Haslam has not answered is who will actually pay for the stadium improvements?
Will he hold the city hostage much like Art Modell tried to do in the early 90′s before he ultimately stole the franchise to get the improvements paid for by taxpayers?
Not likely since Haslam can not move the team according a condition of sale that he signed with Randy Lerner.
Hopefully Haslam will use the proceeds from corporate naming rights, which he told City Council he intends to pursue in the offseason, and pour them directly into the stadium upgrades.
Clevelanders have paid enough in taxes, PSL’s, tickets, concessions and parking for the privilege to get the NFL back only to get awful football to watch in return.
It’s time for the franchise to give something back to the fans – even if it includes an expensive climate controlled environment under a roof to watch the Browns play.
So if Haslam wants to add a roof or fix the stadium up on his own dime, the city should cut the red tape and let him do it.
Regardless if Haslam adds a corporate name, retractable roof, high definition scoreboards or field turf, it won’t change the fact that there is only one thing that can be done to improve the fan experience at the stadium.
Just start to win.