A brief history of Lambeau Field renovations
When Lambeau Field — nee City Stadium — was christened back in 1957 (with Vice President Richard Milhous Nixon in attendance, no less) it was almost unforgivably spare and Spartan by modern standards.
But with a capacity of 32,150, it was still the jewel of Green Bay’s west side. And yet no one in attendance for the Packers’ victory over the Bears on Day One had any idea how quickly it would begin to grow with the team’s fortunes.
While the organization earned a reputation for being somewhat staid and hidebound during its post-Lombardi medieval period (circa 1969-1991) — elevating ill-prepared throwbacks like Bart Starr and Forrest Gregg, sticking with its brass pep band, and leaving personnel decisions to a series of bumbling caretakers — the organization’s appetite for expansion continued unabated.
Recently, the Packers unveiled the latest upgrade to their classic stadium. This newest facelift cost $145 million, added approximately 7,000 seats and 30 new concession stands, and removed 3,800 names from the team’s famously lengthy season ticket waiting list. Today, quaint Lambeau Field is the NFL’s third-largest stadium in terms of seating capacity, having surpassed Jerry Jones’ prized hog — the $1.3 billion AT&T Stadium.
In addition, the newly tricked-out arena has an upgraded sound system, new HD video boards, and a rooftop viewing system — amenities that would surely dazzle old-school gladiators like Ray Nitschke and might very well prompt Vince Lombardi to shout (gleefully this time), “What the hell is going on out here?!”
Lambeau Field, before the latest facelift.
Just as importantly, the project created 2,000 jobs and supported $70 million in wages, with 92% of the work going to Wisconsin companies.
Miron Construction, a Neenah-based company with a Madison office, served as general contractor for the project, and with its strong Fox Valley and Wisconsin ties, it was keenly aware of its role in preserving state pride.
“This organization is very deep-rooted in history and tradition and community, and it’s something that everybody’s concerned about,” said Miron’s John Murphy, the project executive for the renovation. “All those great plays from years ago happened in this stadium, on this field, and all those years of tradition are still here.”
As an Appleton resident and Wisconsin native, Murphy grew up a Packers fan, and his participation in both the recent renovation and the more extensive 2001-03 facelift — which added more than 12,000 seats — was a dream come true.
“It’s very exciting,” said Murphy. “You can’t imagine a better experience than what I’m having today, being able to work on this stadium.”
While Murphy has more reason than most to be excited about Lambeau’s new look, the renovation has prompted football-starved Packers fans across the state to sit up and take notice throughout the doldrums of the NFL’s pseudo-season, which recently kicked off at Lambeau.
Indeed, Packers fans these days are enjoying the best of both worlds — a glorious past and a bright future. While only the Packers know what’s next for their world-class arena, the past is a fair indication that the team is not yet done improving on it.
The following is a brief look at Lambeau Field renovations, past and present.
Green Bay residents approve a $960,000 bond issue to build a new City Stadium.
City Stadium is dedicated on Sept. 29, with Richard Nixon in attendance.
An aerial view of Lambeau Field (then City Stadium) in 1957. Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers.
During the Lombardi years, which cement the Packers’ status as an elite NFL franchise, Lambeau Field is expanded three times. In 1961, 6,519 seats are added, increasing capacity to 38,669. In 1963, the stadium adds another 3,658 seats, boosting capacity to 42,327, and in 1965, 8,525 are added, bringing the number of seats to 50,852. Also in 1965, the stadium is officially rechristened Lambeau Field in honor of team founder Earl “Curly” Lambeau, who died the same year.
The Packers attempt to create a more forgiving playing surface by installing heating coils under the field, but the plan backfires in spectacular fashion. The coils fail to prevent the field from freezing when they’re needed the most and, with an assist from Mother Nature, the Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL championship game (aka The Ice Bowl).
The Packers add another 5,411 seats, fully enclosing the bowl.
The team adds fewer seats than in past years while seeking to maximize the financial impact of its expansions. In 1985, the Packers add 72 luxury suites, which increase the stadium’s capacity by 663 seats (to 56,926). In 1990, the team adds another 36 suites and 1,920 club seats in the south end zone, increasing capacity to 59,543. And in 1995, it adds 90 more suites to the north end zone, breaking the 60,000-seat threshold for the first time (60,890).
A major renovation of Lambeau Field puts the stadium’s capacity at 73,142 — an increase of 12,032 seats. The renovation is financed in part by a controversial Brown County sales tax, which voters narrowly approved in a 2000 referendum. The final tab for the improvements: $295 million.
Miron begins work on the recent $145 million Lambeau renovation in September 2011 and continues through July 2013. More than 4,000 tons of structural steel are used during construction, for an average of 27 tons per day.
In March, work begins on the final phase of the current renovation project, which should be completed in June 2015. At a cost of $140.5 million, the project will include a new Packers Pro Shop, a larger Oneida Nation gate that includes a plaza, new locations for the Packers Hall of Fame and Curly’s Pub, and upgrades to the Lambeau Atrium.
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