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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Lambeau Field's south end zone is undergoing a radical expansion.

In Sports Commentary

When completed, Lambeau Field will be the fourth-largest stadium in the NFL (Rendering: Green Bay Packers)

In Sports Commentary

Construction work has been steady and on-time

In Sports Commentary

When completed, Lambeau Field will be the fourth-largest stadium in the NFL

In Sports Commentary

When completed, Lambeau Field will be the fourth-largest stadium in the NFL

My own Lambeau island


Do ever get the feeling that you're out on your own island?

Before we get to that, we need to step back to 2011.

One year ago, the Packers announced that they were moving forward with an expansion of 6,600 seats built above the south end zone. The renovation also includes a new scoreboard and sound system and a rooftop terrace above the north end zone, all to be paid for by a proposed stock sale rather than tax dollars.

The goal of the expansion was simple; to try to cram as many people into Lambeau Field as possible, increasing revenues and offering more fans the chance to experience Green Bay's incredible game day atmosphere.

The Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District estimates that an extra $1 million per game will be pumped into the local economy with the increased capacity because local restaurants and hotels will be even fuller than they are now during weekends of home games.

When Lambeau Field (originally called new City Stadium) opened in 1957, there was room for 32,150 fans. After four separate expansions in the 1960s, seating swelled to 56,267. Realizing that last time the venerable stadium was not sold out was on Nov. 22, 1959, having too many seats has never been a problem.

In 1985, the first luxury boxes were installed, eventually enclosing the upper ring of the stadium ten years later.

The most radical renovation was the addition of Lambeau's atrium and complete rebuild of the suite level, offices, and Packers Pro Shop. After the 2002 expansion, capacity of football's most hallowed ground was a robust 73,128.

There were two overriding factors that then-Packers president and CEO Bob Harlan considered in choosing the ultimate design more than a decade ago. No. 1, would this design allow the Packers to compete financially with the rest of the NFL? And No. 2, would the integrity of the traditional seating bowl remain intact?

Mission gloriously accomplished on both fronts.

For decades, visitors have marveled at the majesty of NFL glory contained within the walls of Lambeau Field. Football fans worldwide place our treasure above all others as the one venue they must visit at least once before they die. Lambeau Field's understated elegance and stunning simplicity hearken back to when Lombardi stalked the sidelines underneath the dulcet poetry of John Facenda, the very Voice of God himself.

Lambeau Field is football. It is the game's heart; it's very soul. Contained within her walls lies the battlefield of the greatest gladiators known to athletic competition. At Lambeau Field, even in 2012, time stands still.

Except, of course, for that monstrosity arching into the heavens beyond the south end zone.

"We want to make sure everything we do is consistent with the current stadium," Packers President Mark Murphy said in unveiling the plans last year.

They failed.

Well, let me amend that. They failed me. Back to my island.

Tuesday, we really got our first good look at what the new expansion will look like at the annual shareholders meeting. And while we have seen renderings, one cannot really ever tell for certain how they feel about a building until the plans are not on paper but rather in steel.

I hate it.

Lambeau Field has become the one thing I never wanted it to be: just another stadium. Yet another antiseptic, double-decker that serves function over form. Upon completion, the highest seats will not be between the end zones, but rather in one of them. Eschewing the tradition of the one ring of incredible sightlines, it looks as though they just found a place to slap some seats up wherever they could find room, aesthetics be damned.

As it turns out, mine apparently is a very lonely opinion.

"The more the merrier," said Ryan Deitman, 39 of Kenosha. "I'm looking forward to the Thursday night game vs. the Bears!"

Huh?

"As long as care is taken to ensure a good viewing experience for those in the top levels, it's all good," according to Karl Schultz, 27, a Brookfield native currently on military assignment in Texas.

Is it possible that I am looking at this all wrong?

"When I first saw this picture over the weekend, I shared it with some friends and all of us were in agreement that it looks great," says Ben Wroblewski, 26, of Milwaukee.

"I like it, I think it looks good," Racine's Todd Weill, 31, says. "It's nice to see the place entirely enclosed now. Maybe it'll help keep some crowd noise in the place going forward."

Sigh.

After a simple "That's awesome!" from high school student Damon Kuiper and "Love it!" from Kenosha native Dave Sleyster, 38, I really was beginning to wonder if I would ever find someone who felt the same way that I did.

And just when I lost almost all hope, a Hail Mary came flying in like the two that wrecked the Badgers 2011 National Championship hopes. (Too soon?)

"The addition is a bastardization of one of the great sports stadiums," Brookfield's Aaron Baird said, renewing my faith in all of Packerland, albeit briefly. "The seating decks are better suited to Solider Field, rather than Lambeau. (Former coach Mike) Sherman and Harlan did a fabulous job on the renovation. Nowhere in their wildest dreams would this addition would have taken pace under their watch. Lambeau would have better been served with either an open / party deck for standing room only and preserving seating bowl."

So there was one.

By and large, Packers fans are thrilled more fans will be able to come to games. To that end, I concur. The Packers are more than just a football team. In many ways they are our cultural identity. New scoreboards and sound system were a must; with announcements unintelligible and video board replays nearly useless in daylight.

So, there are some good things that will come out of the Packers expansion of Lambeau Field. The 90,000-plus season ticket waiting list will be pared down by several thousand while not affecting the 4,000 lottery seats reserved for Brown County residents each year. Taxes, always a hot-button issue in our state will not go up, as the team's new owners – many of you – have already paid for the expansion. In fact, the additional revenue created will actually allow Brown County taxpayers to retire their payments from the last expansion earlier than expected.

Construction jobs were created; additional stadium workers will be needed. The Packers say the sound created in the soon-to-be closed south end zone is designed to reverberate back toward the playing field, ostensibly enhancing their home field advantage.

These are all wonderful things created by Lambeau Field's expansion that should be celebrated.

I just wish it wasn't such an eyesore.

If anyone needs me, I'll be on that one, lonely, solitary island.


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