Ravens kick off new age It's a chance to check for glitches as curtain goes up on stadium with preseason opener vs. Bears

August 08, 1998|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

For Baltimore's newest stadium, it's Scene 1, Take 2.

Tonight's preseason game between the Ravens and Chicago Bears represents the first full-house test of systems and personnel that endured a dry run at the football stadium on July 30.

The "official" opener, of course, is the Sept. 6 regular-season game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it will be preceded by a weekend concert, laser show and other events.

The July 30 open house for season-ticket holders drew more than 36,000, and revealed a few glitches the team and state hope to have solved by tonight -- when a nearly full house of 70,000 are expected. (As of last night, the Ravens said 1,500 tickets were still available.)

One big problem was parking. Many fans arrived thinking they could, as they do for Orioles games, lay out a few bucks and get a spot on the lots surrounding the stadium. But the Ravens have pre-sold all the on-site parking, meaning anyone without a pass has to be turned around and sent back into traffic.

Also worth remembering: Special parking restrictions will make it illegal to park on streets in neighboring communities unless you live there.

"We learned we had some things we need to work on and we worked very hard this past week trying to get them fixed," Ravens facilities manager Chuck Cusik said.

Food and beverage sales, too, could have gone better, he said. There were spot shortages of some items in some areas of the stadium. The team and concessionaire, Fine Host, bulked up on supplies for tonight.

The July 30 event was, Cusik said, a learning experience. "That's why we wanted to have a dry run," he said.

Among the lessons learned on food was the crab cakes were not well received. Fine Host went back to the drawing board on that item, convening test panels and tasting both commercially available cakes as well as ones made in its kitchen.

"We lost a couple of days to crab cakes," said Fine Host district manager Charles McNair.

The new recipe should be more to everyone's liking, he said. It has more crab, less bread and mayonnaise and a few new spices. "I think we came up with a winner," he said.

The company also has mustered troops from around the country for tonight's opening. About 30 corporate executives and chefs from Fine Host-managed facilities -- both stadiums and convention centers -- around the country have been in Baltimore this week training staff and preparing for tonight.

"They will be here through the event. We typically do this for openings," McNair said.

The open house revealed a few equipment problems, such as balky gas lines and non-functioning grills, that have been repaired. And provisions have been arriving all week, including 6,000 pounds of hot dogs, 8,750 gallons of soda and 10,625 gallons of beer.

Structurally, the stadium held up well, said Alice Hoffman, the Maryland Stadium Authority's project manager on the job.

The biggest problem was an elevator serving the press deck, which stopped with an operator on board for an hour. There were also a few loose cup holders, running toilets, overtaxed skybox air conditioners, and similar maladies.

Minor repairs have been made and the place should be nearly complete tonight. A few items will have to wait until the Aug. 24 preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles or the regular-season opener.

The ornamental gate locks have not been installed yet, for example. The gates are chained shut after hours. The garbage cans have not arrived either, so fans will have to make due with painted oil drums. A few banners are also tardy in arriving from the sign maker.

Two novelty stands on the upper deck are still under construction. The designs for these were completed too late to be ready for tonight. And Hoffman has asked for a redesign of the way in which seats for the disabled are bolted to their aluminum bases.

Also incomplete is a display case, to be located on the west end of the lower concourse, to house some historic artifacts from the area. Among them: a chunk of prehistoric bald cypress tree found during excavation that has been carved and finished to resemble a raven.

The state is still looking for an example of pottery made at the site by china merchant James Pawley, who ran a shop there from 1838 to 1858. If none is found by next month, the state may use a reproduction, Hoffman said.

"Everything is pretty much done," said Hoffman, who has overseen the construction which began two years ago.

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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