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Ravens plan upgrades for M&T Bank Stadium

The Baltimore Ravens want to update 18-year-old M&T Bank Stadium with $110 million in improvements, including large new video boards, new corner suites, and escalators and elevators so fans would no longer need to walk to the upper level.

Details of the proposed improvements were contained in a Maryland Stadium Authority document obtained in a public records request and confirmed by the Ravens.

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The stadium authority has already approved some of the renovations — including replacing the east and west video screens with larger boards, upgrading concessions spaces and adding a "ribbon board" encircling the upper level — that are to be completed during the coming offseason.

The football team and the authority are still discussing the other enhancements, which could come over the next three years. These include adding escalators and elevators, and building suites in each of the four corner notches of the upper bowl, according to a written agreement between the authority and the team.

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Video boards would be installed above the corner suites. The gaps in the corners, which the team nicknamed "victory notches," were a distinctive trait of the original stadium design, creating views of the city for fans.

The team would pay for the improvements. The $110 million price tag for the projects would be about half what the brick-sided, 71,000-seat stadium cost when completed in 1998 with $205 million from the state and $24 million from the team.

"The Ravens are offering to expend a significant amount of capital into the stadium, so that's a positive thing," said Michael Frenz, executive director of the stadium authority, which serves as the team's landlord on behalf of the state. "I think it's pretty clear that what they're trying to do is improve the fan experience."

The stadium authority also may kick in some more money. If it reaches agreement with the team on the $110 million package, the document says the authority "will use its best efforts" to pay up to $24 million for various projects that could include work on mechanical systems or flooring.

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"It's really nuts-and-bolts type things," Frenz said.

Frenz cautioned that a large chunk of the renovations — amounting to $71 million of the $110 million — were still tentative

"We're negotiating with the Ravens on an agreement. It's still under discussion," he said.

In the document, the stadium authority retained the right "to review and comment on all design and construction contracts."

Frenz signed the Sept. 29 memorandum along with Ravens president Dick Cass, and the authority's board approved the initial renovation plans in October.

The Ravens confirmed last week that they had reached agreement on the initial improvements, including the video boards and a second "ribbon" board — the stadium already has one on the lower deck — for messages such as promotions or out-of-town NFL scores.

The club declined to comment further, saying it would be premature to discuss details of the proposals still under discussion.

This season, the Ravens added a natural grass field to replace the artificial turf that had been there since 2002. In 2015, the team added 360-degree replays with a newly implemented system called "freeD." The club also said it spent more than $5 million before last season to improve Wi-Fi access in the stadium for fans.

While the Ravens have had no problem selling out games, officials said last year that the team — like others — must compete with evolving technology such as high-definition television.

"We are in a constant struggle to get our fans to get up off their couch and come to our games and watch our games live," Cass said in 2015.

M&T Bank Stadium is unique for its purple seats and gap-toothed upper deck. And most other football stadiums of its generation used concrete, glass, stone and steel — not brick.

Although sometimes overshadowed by its neighbor — the popular Oriole Park at Camden Yards — M&T Bank Stadium is still well regarded. Stadium Journey, a site that annually ranks ballparks, recently listed M&T Bank stadium as No. 17 on its top-100 stadium experiences.

"The concourse features bright signage, good audio quality, and nicely designed concession stands," Stadium Journey said.

Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis was the only NFL stadium listed ahead of it. Oriole Park at Camden Yards was ranked No. 1.

"I think we have one of the better stadiums in the league," said season ticket holder Jim McCain of Arbutus, council president of the Ravens Roosts fan clubs, before heading to Thursday night's game against the Cleveland Browns. "I think they keep it updated and up to fans' expectations."

Ravens fan Bill Lambka of Pasadena said while Baltimore is fortunate to have "absolutely fantastic" stadiums, escalators would be welcome at Ravens' games.

"It's getting up to that upper level and getting back," Lambka said. "There are a lot of fans who have health issues. I have a very good friend with health isues, and he's very limited."

The current stadium escalator is for the club level. Elevators are for fans in the suite or club levels but not those in the upper bowl unless they have disabilities.

"An escalator would be really nice," Lambka said.

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