Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Earlier this year the home of the Cleveland Browns got a new name, now a major facelift is in the works.
Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have made it no secret that FirstEnergy Stadium is in need of an overhaul.
The questions are: How much of an overhaul does it need? What will it cost and how do they pay for it?
Browns president Alec Scheiner said in an exclusive interview Friday that they are moving forward with the project of which the scope, cost and financing of has yet to be determined.
“It’s a big focus of ours,” Scheiner said. “We’re moving as fast as humanly possible right now. We have chosen an architect and we’re looking at every possible thing that can enhance the fan experience.”
FirstEnergy Stadium will host it’s 15th season this fall but sitting by the lake has aged the building, which was essentially obsolete the day it’s gates opened.
“I think it’s a great stadium, I really do,” Scheiner said. “I think that there are a lot of great things about this stadium but if you look at stadiums like Philadelphia and Baltimore and Carolina, these are stadiums that people consider new stadiums and they are still getting facelifts.”
Scheiner knows stadium financing well.
He helped Jerry Jones with the construction of Cowboys Stadium which took 10-years to plan and priced out at over $1 billion to complete.
Privately, the Browns would like for the work to go beyond the typical scoreboard and sound system upgrades, which will be included, according to a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the project has not been finalized or announced.
The price tag for the renovations to FirstEnergy Stadium is expected to exceed $100 million the source said.
Scheiner declined to get into specifics of what they hope to do to the stadium on Friday but Browns officials have been cultivating options for a remodel ranging from changing out seats and doing basic system upgrades to restructuring and reconfiguring a portion of the seating bowl.
“We owe it to our fans to look at every aspect of the building,” Scheiner said. “When you do a search for an architect they look at everything whether you like it or not.
“Anything you could imagine we’ll look at and then we’ll decide what the scope of the project should be.”
The Browns would like to transform the stadium into more of a multi-use facility as evidenced by this years USA soccer friendly with Belgium that drew over 27,000 fans and a kick off concert featuring Bon Jovi scheduled for July 14.
Cleveland Municipal Stadium was demolished in 1996 to make way for the new stadium which was built on the same 31-acre plot of land at a cost of over $296 million in time for the 1999 season.
“It’s a great stadium,” Scheiner said. “We’ve got a great backbone but there’s some things that we can enhance and it all should be focused on the fan experience.”
Construction of the 73,200 seat stadium was funded by a 10-year extension of the 15-year ‘sin tax’ on cigarettes and alcohol which was originally approved by voters in 1990 to fund the construction of Gateway – consisting of what is now Progressive Field and Quicken Loans Arena.
The sin tax expires in 2015 and the Browns along with the Indians and possibly Cavaliers could seek to get it extended to help pay for renovations and upkeep of their respective facilities.
Extending the sin tax will be easier said than done and it has nothing to do with the actual vote. Getting it back to the ballot will be difficult since legislation was passed in 2008 preventing institution of any type of ‘sin tax’ in Ohio.
Cuyahoga County, the city of Cleveland and the 3 teams would have to seek an exemption from the state legislature before it could go to voters.
The Indians and Cavaliers have spent 10′s of millions of their own dollars for various upgrades to the ballpark and arena at Gateway since they’ve opened.
How the Browns would actually pay for any renovations to the stadium has yet to be determined but a financing package is being worked on behind the scenes.
What changes would you like to see the Browns make to FirstEnergy Stadium? Leave you comments below.