TTZ: Don Beebe
Club Level: Bernardo Harris
A year-round destination venue to be enjoyed by Packers fans in a variety of ways on a daily basis, it underwent a dramatic facelift from 2000-03 that added a host of new amenities and attractions, carrying the glorious tradition and history of the Packers forward in the “like-new” Lambeau Field.
Building upon that success, the venerable stadium currently is in the midst of a five-year expansion and renovation (2011-2015) that saw the debut of the South End in 2013, a new section which closed the south end-zone structure and features approximately 7,000 new seats, including new premium seating, sponsor and partner areas.
Featuring the only true “retro” look in the entire league, Lambeau Field through the redevelopment and recent expansion has maintained its heart – the original seating bowl. The same hallowed ground where many of the NFL’s greatest moments have transpired continues to exist, a setting in which current players will create incredible memories in future years.
What was once just a football stadium that fans could use only 10 days during the season is now a Packers cultural center that can be enjoyed throughout the year. Within the five-story Lambeau Field Atrium, located on the stadium’s east side, is the new, larger Packers Pro Shop, located on a revamped lobby level; corporate meeting and event facilities for up to 25 to 1,200 people; a restaurant (Curly’s Pub); and a revamped Hall of Fame to be completed in 2015. (see pages 609-612 for a full listing of the Atrium dining, entertainment and retail options).
Just outside the Atrium is the newly redone Robert E. Harlan Plaza, named in honor of the former team CEO (1989-2007). In the new space are bronze statues of team founder Curly Lambeau and legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Sculpted by Julie Rotblatt-Amrany (Lombardi) and Omri Amrany (Lambeau) of the Fine Art Studio of Rotblatt-Amrany in Highland Park, Ill., each statue is 14 feet tall and sits atop three feet of steps and a four-foot base. Nearby the statues are several benches – making the plaza area a great place to sit and soak up the majesty of Lambeau Field.
On gamedays, fans benefit from many of the same 21st-century amenities typically found in the shiny but sterile, newer facilities that have sprouted up across the country in recent years – everything from wider concourses (including a new, upper concourse), to enhanced concession areas, to modernized and increased restroom facilities (particularly for female fans), to a club level for suite and club-seat patrons.
The 2003 redevelopment, a $295 million project, was completed on time – and on budget – with the Packers remaining in Green Bay to play all of their games throughout the 32-month process. Put into motion by a county-wide referendum that approved a half-cent sales tax increase on Sept. 12, 2000, the project was financed jointly by the city of Green Bay, county taxpayers, the Packers and the NFL.
The Packers’ football facilities – a vital element in attracting players in today’s ultra-competitive NFL – also were enhanced greatly by the stadium’s redevelopment, debuting in time for the 2002 season. The centerpiece of these quarters is a breathtaking, 64-by-120-foot, football-shaped locker room with 64 stately wooden lockers. Another 25 lockers can be found in an adjoining, auxiliary locker room, to be utilized during training camp.
The football facilities also feature a much larger training room with all of the latest therapy pools, as well as a permanent X-ray machine, a weight room, individual position meeting rooms with theatre-style seating, a 150-plus-seat team auditorium, a basketball court with a parquet wood floor, and a racquetball court.
Not forgetting the Packers’ rich tradition and history at Lambeau Field, then-GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman requested three slabs of concrete from the team’s former field tunnel at the north end – which were walked over by many of the greatest players in club history – to be moved to the new tunnel in the southeast corner; the players began using it during the 2002 season. A nearby plaque recognizes the presence of the concrete from the old tunnel.
In July 2002, all of the team’s administrative and football-operations offices also relocated to within the Lambeau Field Atrium on the stadium’s east side.
Other benefits realized through the redevelopment project include a modern system of field lights that is more than eight times brighter than the previous stadium lights, and a new visiting-team locker room. Also, a larger, more comfortable and modern press box that can seat in excess of 250 media members for a playoff game – positioned along the sidelines – debuted in 2002. In 2003, the press box was renamed “The Lee Remmel Press Box” in honor of the former newspaper sportswriter, Packers public relations director and team historian. Remmel retired in 2007 after more than 60 years of close association with the organization.
The current expansion and renovation of Lambeau Field and the Atrium, a $312 million project, began in 2011 with the installation of a distributed-audio system that delivers sound more consistently and evenly throughout the stadium bowl. The 2012 season featured new high-definition video boards in the end zones with displays four times larger than the old versions, as well as a new Bellin Health Gate on the north end of the stadium with an accompanying North Loft, a popular rooftop viewing platform located just beneath the scoreboard. The aforementioned new seating section, which opened in 2013 in the south end zone, is served by the Shopko Gate with escalators and elevators to service the five levels of seating. The multiple sections feature amenities not previously available in Lambeau Field, from viewing platforms in the general seating areas for watching the action on the field, to indoor-outdoor suite configurations and inclusive meal arrangements in the premium and partner areas. Atrium work completed in 2013 includes a larger Oneida Nation Gate with plaza (2013). In 2014, a new East Gate with a 50-foot Lombardi Trophy replica, a new Packers Pro Shop and a redone Harlan Plaza debuted. A new Hall of Fame and restaurant will come online in 2015. All upgrades are designed to improve the fan’s experience.
The football facilities also received an upgrade during the current renovations. The main component is the Conditioning, Rehabilitation and Instructional Center (CRIC), which includes an indoor, 35-yard field that can be used for a variety of activities, including team walk-throughs, strength and conditioning work, and rehabilitation exercises for injured players. The new football facilities, located underneath and adjacent to the Oneida Nation Gate, also include a weight room, team dining area, player resource and development area, and player lounge.
Opened in 1957, Lambeau Field had seen numerous smaller-scale changes through the years, including seven prior seating expansions and the addition of suites. But, as new stadiums arose throughout the NFL in the 1990s, Lambeau Field became outdated. As a publicly owned team, the Packers must generate a significant amount of income from their home to remain competitive. Challenges with capacity, as well as the need for updated suites plus more club seats, restrooms and concessions, made redevelopment a necessity.
Faced with these challenges, the organization went to work in October 1999, assembling a plan to protect 80 years of Packers history and ensure the club’s continued viability. After several feasibility studies and overwhelming support for renovation, as opposed to building a new stadium, the redevelopment plan was determined as the proper course of action. Unveiled in January 2000, the plan ultimately won voter approval that September with the hard work of people committed to preserving Green Bay’s unique franchise.
“Our fans overwhelmingly asked us to save Lambeau Field,” then-President and CEO Bob Harlan said. “This plan accomplishes that while giving the Packers an economic base to build for the future in Green Bay. We want this to be the No. 1 destination in Wisconsin. We’re going to build a stadium that the rest of the National Football League wished it had.”
Included in the 2003 redevelopment were more than 11,600 additional seats, including roughly 6,600 more bowl seats, which increased Lambeau’s capacity to 73,094 at the time. More than 4,000 of the seats were available for use during the 2002 season with construction ongoing.
The block of additional seats in 2003 helped the Packers remove roughly 3,600 names from their season-ticket waiting list – which at the start of the 2014 season had approximately 110,000 names on it – between both ticket packages. The 7,000-plus new seats in 2013 helped the Packers remove another 5,000 names from the list. Additionally, Brown County residents without season tickets have a chance to purchase 4,000 new bowl tickets on a game-by-game basis; in 2014, 10,000 residents were randomly selected from a list and were able to purchase four tickets. Disabled-accessible seats also increased dramatically through both projects, rising from 56 to 756 in 2003, and to 876 currently.
The main concourse – previously so narrow in some places that it had become a safety problem – also was expanded significantly in 2002. And a new, upper concourse – complete with concession stands and restrooms – which increases the ease with which fans can move through the facility, fully debuted in 2003 with the project’s completion after partial use in 2002.
Concession stands and restrooms were greatly expanded as well. Concession points of sale increased to 281 on the main and upper concourses alone, up from 186. A new concession-sales system was installed in 2012, further reducing the time fans are out of their seats, and the 2013 expansion added another 30 points of sale. The 2003 project increased the availability of women’s restrooms from 180 to 556, and men’s from 436 to 708. The recent expansion increased the number to 646 and 798, respectively.
The centerpiece of the redeveloped stadium is the Lambeau Field Atrium, a 376,000-square-foot, five-plus-story structure on the east side. MillerCoors, through a sponsorship deal that extends through the 2022 NFL season, is a partner with the Packers in the Atrium and is the sponsor of the area’s main entrance gate. Welcoming fans is a glass wall, facing Lombardi Avenue, measuring more than 180 feet long and 80 feet high.
The Lambeau Field Atrium, with its many attractions, creates an “entertainment district” at the legendary stadium, a concept pioneered at venues like Camden Yards in Baltimore and Progressive Field in Cleveland.
Revenue generated from the Packers Pro Shop, Packers Hall of Fame, Curly’s Pub, the Atrium eateries, the Legends Club and special events is essential to the Packers’ long-term survival. In just the first year, with only the new Pro Shop open and several gate sponsorships sold, the Packers’ NFL revenue ranking for the fiscal year 2002-03 jumped to 10th, up from 20th the prior year. The strong financial performance continued during the ensuing fiscal years as all elements of the redeveloped stadium came online; the club’s NFL revenue ranking has continued to be in the second quartile, allowing the team to continue delivering on its promise to the community and its fans – turning profitability into the preservation of the franchise and the stadium. The redevelopment’s economic impact on the area has been positive as well; roughly 60 percent of the Packers’ special events department’s bookings come from outside Brown County, bringing in additional business to the Green Bay area. The Atrium already has events booked out to 2020.
Large-scale stadium events have included the “Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic” in February 2006, a Wisconsin Badgers-Ohio State Buckeyes matchup that drew 40,890 fans, the fourth-largest hockey crowd at the time. In June 2011, a Kenny Chesney concert attracted more than 45,000 music lovers to the stadium. The two events brought in $3 million and $5 million, respectively, to the local economy. A Wisconsin-LSU football game is scheduled for September 2016, as well.
On the community front, the Atrium has regularly hosted events. “Spooktacular Fun,” a Halloween event that features interactive and entertaining activities including the “Haunted Concourse,” music, magic, miming, clowns and jugglers, takes place in October. In November, the Packers serve a Thanksgiving meal to more than 900 people. March sees the Atrium welcome “Project Play 60” – a day focused on getting kids out of the house to enjoy non-strenuous physical activity. More than 15,000 residents enjoy the Atrium during these days.
The 2003 project’s voter-approved financing came in the form of a half-cent sales tax in Brown County – where the Packers make their estimated $282 million annual economic impact – that supported more than $160 million in bonding. The state of Wisconsin approved funding of an additional $9.1 million for stadium-infrastructure improvements. The Packers, the city and the NFL contributed $125.9 million from a one-time seat user fee ($1,400 for seven-game “Green Package” ticket holders, $600 for three-game “Gold Package” ticket holders, in 2001), proceeds from the 1997-98 stock sale and an NFL loan. And, the club pledged to cover any project cost overruns in consideration of its authority to direct the design of the building and stadium construction.
The Packers’ contribution to the project ranked as the fifth highest in NFL history at the time. Tommy Thompson, Wisconsin governor at the time, signed into law enabling legislation May 13, 2000, in a ceremony held on the playing field. Later, on Jan. 3, 2001, the Green Bay/Brown County Professional Stadium District Board approved a new Lambeau Field lease agreement between the district, the Packers and the city of Green Bay; the lease’s primary term runs for 30 years after the opening of the redeveloped stadium in 2003. A groundbreaking ceremony, involving then-Governor Scott McCallum, area dignitaries and Packers officials and players, subsequently was held May 19, 2001.
The current, two-phase project has a total cost of $312 million, with no funding coming from public tax money. The first phase, including the south end-zone expansion, sound and video upgrades, cost $146 million and was funded by the Packers ($64 million from the organization’s fifth stock sale), an NFL loan ($61 million) and a contribution from the stadium district ($21 million). The stadium district’s user fee for the 2013 season was set at $2,100 for the “Green Package,” and $900 for the “Gold Package.” The second phase, including the Atrium renovations, will cost $166 million and be funded by the Packers ($111 million through traditional financing) and an NFL loan ($55 million).
The NFL’s longest-tenured venue, Lambeau easily ranks as one of the most recognized and envied locales in all of sports, a fact recognized in 1999 when Sports Illustrated named it the eighth-best facility in the world to watch sports – and the lone NFL stadium to make the magazine’s “Top 20” list. Additionally, SI.com in 2007 and 2008 rated Lambeau Field as the No. 1 stadium experience in the NFL, as did ESPN The Magazine in 2009 and 2011-12.
Even with the changes over the past decade, Lambeau maintains its nostalgic and intimate feel with totally unobstructed sightlines. Permeated by history, tradition and mystique, the view from inside can be awe-inspiring.
Dedicated as City Stadium Sept. 29, 1957 – a day that saw Green Bay topple the hated Chicago Bears, 21-17 – ceremonies included Vice President Richard Nixon and NFL Commissioner Bert Bell. In 1965, the facility was renamed Lambeau Field following the death of E.L. “Curly” Lambeau, the Packers’ founder and first coach.
Originally built at a cost of $960,000, an amount shared equally by the Packers Corporation and the city of Green Bay, the facility was financed by way of a bond issue that received 2-to-1 voter approval in a municipal referendum conducted April 3, 1956.
Located in southwest Green Bay, surrounded on three sides by the village of Ashwaubenon, Lambeau Field originally was built on farmland, purchased for $73,305. The stadium’s original architect, Somerville Inc., favored the current site because it was sloped, making it perfect to build a bowl.
Lambeau Field, now in its 58th NFL season, is the longest continuously occupied stadium in the league – 10 years more than the next-closest venue, Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego at 48 years. In pro sports as a whole, only the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park (103 seasons) and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field (101 seasons) have longer active homefield tenures.
Prior to the 2003 redevelopment, seven seating additions – all paid for by the Green Bay Packers Inc. – increased Lambeau’s capacity from its original 32,150 to 38,669 in 1961, to 42,327 in 1963, to 50,852 in 1965 and to 56,263 in 1970. Construction of 72 initial suites in 1985 moved capacity to 56,926, and a 1990 addition of 36 boxes and 1,920 theatre-style club seats changed the number to 59,543. The seventh seating addition, a $4.7 million project in 1995, put 90 more suites in the previously open north end zone, for the first time giving the stadium the feel of a complete bowl and upping capacity to 60,890.
Ultimately, the eighth addition bumped stadium seating capacity to 73,094. During the 2002 campaign, with work ongoing, capacity fluctuated between 65,290 and 66,110 as the season progressed. The ninth addition brought approximately 7,600 new seats online for the 2013 season, putting capacity at 80,735, third highest among NFL stadiums.
In 2007, the Packers installed an entirely new playing surface, including a completely new drainage and heating system, bringing the latest technology in field management to the famous stadium. Chief to the new system is DD GrassMaster, a natural-grass surface reinforced with man-made fibers. All existing levels of the field were removed and the new system began with a clay sub-grade level, compacted and graded (with a .6 percent slope), including drain tile, irrigation pipe and thermostat wiring for the heating system. The second level consists of 5½ inches of pea gravel. On top of the gravel layer is 30-plus miles of ¾-inch tubing for the heating system, which can maintain a root-zone temperature of 55-plus degrees to keep the ground from freezing during the season’s latter months. Level three consists of 12 inches of root-zone sand and Kentucky bluegrass turf. DD GrassMaster’s synthetic fibers are stitched into the surface, providing strength and stability to the field. Fibers extend approximately seven inches below the surface, are exposed approximately one inch above the surface, and are spaced every three-quarters of an inch. Approximately 20 million individual stitches make up the process. The slope equates to a crown of about 5½ inches on the new surface.
Also prominent within the stadium are the names of the 22 Packers players and coaches elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The 22nd, Dave Robinson, was added during the 2013 campaign. The Packers’ 13 NFL Championship seasons (south scoreboard) and five retired jersey numbers (north end zone) are displayed in the stadium as well. In December 2006, the facade’s northeast corner became home to the name of Ron Wolf, the former Packers general manager (1992-2001). Bob Harlan, then CEO, had the name installed, in a new tradition, separate from the Pro Football Hall of Famers, so that Wolf could be recognized in a way that is befitting of his enormous legacy with the organization.
Lambeau Field is among the NFL’s toughest places to play. Green Bay holds a 133-42-1 (.759) regular-season record at Lambeau since 1992, plus a 9-5 mark in the playoffs, for an overall record of 142-47-1 (.750). Even more imposing, the Packers under Head Coach Mike McCarthy have gone 45-12-1 (.784) in their past 58 regular-season games at Lambeau.
In the midst of nearly four full seasons at home without a defeat – prior to a 1998 Monday night loss to Minnesota, their last setback at Lambeau had come in the 1995 season opener – the Packers established the NFL’s second-longest home winning streak (25). Only the Miami Dolphins (1971-74) have won more consecutive regular-season home games (27).
In the two decades prior to the start of the 2003 redevelopment project, the Packers organization itself had spent more than $50 million on improvements to the stadium, the previous club administration building and training facilities, including construction of the original indoor practice structure in 1982 and its replacement, the Don Hutson Center, in 1994 at a cost of nearly $4.7 million. Recent improvements include DD GrassMaster surfaces on practice fields, Clarke Hinkle Field (2006) and Ray Nitschke Field (2009), with the latter surface including a heated portion that keeps the ground from freezing late in the season and affords the team the opportunity to practice outside. Nitschke Field also has a seating facility, erected in 2009, for fans attending training-camp practices.
Lambeau Field today is owned by the city of Green Bay and the Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District; retirement of the city’s original $960,000 debt was celebrated at a mortgage-burning ceremony in May 1978.
Sold out since 1960 and on a season-ticket basis since 1961 (302 consecutive regular-season games, not including replacement games, at the start of the 2014 season), Lambeau was not the Packers’ only regular-season home until 1995. The team maintained two separate ticket packages after moving all games to Green Bay, eliminating four annual dates at Milwaukee County Stadium.
“Gold” ticket holders (made up primarily of former Milwaukee season patrons) have a three-game package consisting of the annual Midwest Shrine preseason contest plus the second and fifth regular-season home games each year.
“Green” season customers (made up of original Green Bay ticket holders) have a seven-game package consisting of the annual Bishop’s Charities preseason game and the remaining six regular-season contests.