Breaking ground: Stadium planning set to begin for real Dome is definitely out, but name still up in air

The Browns' Move To Baltimore

November 07, 1995|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,SUN STAFF

A dome is out of the question. It probably won't be called Schaefer Stadium. Nor will it be a carbon copy of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The Browns and the Maryland Stadium Authority have agreed to a 70,000-seat, open-air stadium with 108 private suites, 7,500 club seats and a natural grass field. The stadium construction is expected to cost $175 million and be completed in time for the 1998 season.

Stadium officials, who estimate that it will take 32 months to build the stadium, admit they have their work cut out.

"It's a tough schedule," said Bruce H. Hoffman, the executive director of the stadium authority. "The 32 months start in January. I'd like to start in late November and early December to get a head start."

The stadium authority already has contracted the Kansas City-based HOK architectural group -- the same one that designed Camden Yards -- and the construction firms of Barton Malow and Whiting-Turner to design and build the football stadium.

The Browns and the stadium authority have agreed to minimum requirements for the stadium, but there is no detailed design. The two groups are basically starting from scratch.

"We have never done anything more than a conceptual drawing," stadium authority chairman John Moag said.

They have, however, made a preliminary decision on a name. It most likely will be called "Browns Field at Camden Yards" or "Browns Stadium at Camden Yards," Moag said.

The Browns and the stadium authority agreed the stadium would not be named for a corporate sponsor. Naming it Schaefer

Stadium, in honor former Gov. William Donald Schaefer, is definitely a long shot.

Schaefer, when asked about that possibility yesterday, rolled his eyes and said the chances were less than 1 billion to one.

Hoffman said Browns Stadium or Browns Field at Camden Yards were the front-runners, but added, "there's nothing out of the realm of possibility."

The stadium authority's primary focus is not on the name, but the design.

Moag said stadium authority and Browns officials will travel to the new stadium under construction in Charlotte, N.C., to look for ideas.

Among the ideas being discussed are monitors on the backs on the seats so fans can feel right at home while viewing instant replays.

"We need to look at some high-tech stuff," Moag said.

A domed stadium, however, has been deemed too costly, increasing construction costs by at least $100 million, and not as desirable as an open-air stadium.

"We don't have the money, these guys don't want to play in it, and I don't want to see a game in it," Moag said.

Located on 12 acres to the south of Oriole Park, in the what is now parking lots D and E, the football stadium will not resemble the baseball facility, Hoffman said.

The stadium will incorporate a brick facade, concrete and exposed steel beams. But it will be more "industrial-looking" than Oriole Park, much like the neighborhoods that will surround the football stadium, Hoffman said.

"Certainly we want compatibility, but that doesn't mean copying what we had before," Hoffman said. "It's going to be very visible on the drive into Baltimore. It's going to be bigger than the baseball stadium."

Hoffman said the Browns and the stadium authority must receive final approval from the NFL before breaking ground. The worst-case but unlikely scenario is that the Browns must honor their Cleveland lease that runs until 1998.

"We'd be building, they'd be playing be playing back in Cleveland and when it's done they'd move into it," Hoffman said.

But the more likely scenario has the Browns moving to Memorial Stadium for two seasons -- rent- and expense-free. Hoffman said the stadium authority already has made $1 million in improvements for Jim Speros' CFL Stallions and is prepared to spend $1 million more for the Browns.

Among the improvements would be additional seats to boost the stadium capacity from 54,600 to 65,000 and electrical repairs to elevators and escalators.

The Browns will practice at the Colts' old facility in Owings Mills until a new, state-of-the-art facility can be built. The Browns would finance that facility through revenues their permanent seat licenses.

The biggest challenge is getting the stadium ready for 1998. Costs are expected to reach $200 million, with $15 million set aside for stadium design and other costs and $10 million for land acquisition and additional parking.

Once the NFL approves the 30-year lease, Hoffman said construction can begin.

A design must be completed and construction must begin no later than the spring. But sooner is better than later.

"It'd be really tough to get it done in 1998 if we don't start in January," stadium authority general counsel Alison L. Asti said.

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