By Tom Withers | Associated Press
CLEVELAND -- They've boosted their reputation and improved their record.
Now the Browns want to upgrade their stadium.
Days away from playing their biggest game in years, the NFL team unveiled plans Wednesday to modernize FirstEnergy Stadium with a two-year, $120 million renovation project.
Browns CEO Joe Banner said the club will present its proposal, which includes the installation of new, high-definition video scoreboards, escalators and a reduction of 3,000 seats, to the city's planning commission on Thursday. The Browns will also meet with Mayor Frank Jackson and city officials about approval and funding for the project.
Banner wouldn't reveal who would be paying for the endeavor, but promised the Browns "will make a significant investment." The NFL recently approved a $62.5 million loan to the team to be used toward stadium improvements and Banner said all of that money will be applied toward the plan.
It's apparent the Browns will ask the city for some money, but it's not known how much.
"We have to do this together," Banner said. "Obviously, the planning commission and a number of agencies in the city would have to be in line and approving this project for it to happen economics aside, and obviously economics aren't an aside, so there is nothing that can happen to the stadium without the city feeling positive."
The Browns unveiled plans for the stadium makeover -- to take place over the next two offseasons -- at a splashy news conference attended by some season-ticket holders and fans. With Banner, owner Jimmy Haslam and president Alec Scheiner sitting on stage, video highlights of this season's first nine weeks were shown before renderings of the revamped stadium were presented to the audience.
Banner said there are no plans to put a dome or roof on the stadium because it would require a nine-figure investment. Also, the Browns will continue to play on a grass field rather than switch to a synthetic surface.
Banner said the Browns had internal discussions about building a new stadium, but opted to make enhancements and improvement to the 15-year-old facility, which was built with taxpayer money when Cleveland was awarded an expansion franchise in 1998.
Although the seating capacity will drop from 71,000 to 68,000, the lower bowl will be reconfigured with more seats, giving fans better sightlines of the field. The exterior will also receive a face lift, escalators will be added to aid fan movement between levels and concessions will be improved.
The stadium improvement would continue Haslam's plan to overhaul a franchise that has never made the Super Bowl and last won an NFL title in 1964. The team spent $5 million refurbishing its headquarters and training facility in Berea, Ohio, this summer, and Haslam feels this stadium overhaul is a logical next step.
"It's all part of creating a world-class organization," Haslam said. "We're giving our fans a great place to watch football. We're going to have a place that's dramatically different."
Banner said the team hopes a renovated stadium would attract other major events, including concerts and soccer gamers.
"We have had discussions with people," Banner said. "We've started to talk to some of the people in the concert and soccer world and some of those events just to build on relationship. We've tried to build and get them enthused about Cleveland as a marketplace and we talked to them a little bit about the renovation. We're very hopeful that that will be one of the outcomes."
The announcement of the team's off-field plans coincide with the Browns (4-5) preparing for Sunday's game at Cincinnati against the first-place Bengals (6-4). It's Cleveland's most important game since 2007, when the Browns finished 10-6 and just missed the playoffs.
Haslam has enjoyed watching the Browns develop into winners.
"It's exciting and rewarding," he said. "To be playing games that count this late in the season, this deep into November, I think is very meaningful and to see the excitement in Northeastern Ohio with our Browns fans is phenomenal."
Banner, too, has been impressed by the team's rise under first-year coach Rob Chudzinski, who navigated the Browns through a turbulent start to the season, which has included using three quarterbacks, the trade of running back Trent Richardson and numerous injuries.
"I'd be hard pressed to think that in nine weeks a first-time head coach can do any better or any more than he's doing," Banner said. "All of the measurables that you'd look to come up with, if you even wanted to create a yardstick of measuring at this moment, I just think he's doing an outstanding job."