The dark side of being a city that proudly hosts a major professional sports franchise is the fact that the very same city has to pay for that pride. Usually it means taxpayer subsidies on new or upgraded facilities. Efforts have been made over the last 20-30 years to include capital improvement budgets in each stadium deal, to pay for new seats, scoreboards, or simply to keep up with the Joneses. So it’s rather disheartening to hear the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, only months after the passing of beloved Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Jr. and the approval of a plan to upgrade his namesake stadium, is already calling for a brand new stadium. The lifespan of the old stadium is at its practical end to Goodell and NFL brass. A new stadium somewhere in Western New York is the best plan, not just for the league but also for the team valuation if Wilson’s heirs decide it’s time to sell. Knowing this, I’m going to posit an idea that would have little to no traction if it were presented in New York. Read it anyway, think it over, and ask yourself why these stadia cost so much. The Citrus Bowl in Orlando is undergoing a $200 million, 9-month makeover. For that $200 million, HNTB (same firm that redid the Coliseum in the 90’s) is demolishing the lower bowl. The only parts of the original stadium remaining are the upper decks along each sideline, which were completed in 1990. You could call it a reverse-Mt. Davis.
Pretty much all of the things you’d expect in a brand new pro stadium will be in the redone Citrus Bowl. That includes:
- 60-65,000 seats depending on event
- 5,000 club seats
- 25,000 square feet of club lounges
- 34 suites (10 additional)
- Loge boxes
- New locker rooms for teams and officials
- Expanded lower and upper concourses
- Circulation stairs, escalators, and elevators
- Restrooms and back-of-the-house facilities
- 40 x 120 main scoreboard, smaller boards in opposite end zone
- 10,000 square foot party deck in end zone
Other than the suite total and the greater number of seats, how is that different from what the Raiders are seeking? And it’s being done for $200 million, in only NINE MONTHS. That’s roughly the same timeframe as the Stanford Stadium reconstruction project, yet more comprehensive. HNTB and Turner Construction are under the gun to get the stadium done by November, in time for the first game there: the Florida Blue Florida Classic, the football matchup between historically black colleges Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman. The Citrus Bowl no longer has a permanent team tenant since Central Florida moved to their own on-campus football stadium. That leaves the FBFC, and two bowl games, the Russell Athletic Bowl and the Capital One Bowl. The Raiders could have virtually the same thing done at the Coliseum. AECOM’s study showed that the Raiders have too many suites, with 75 as the right number as opposed to the 143 they currently have. The East stand (Mt. Davis) has 90 suites on its own. One of the levels suites could be converted to broadcast and press facilities, but that side of the stadium is prone to bad sun conditions in the afternoon, when most home games would be played. Perhaps the press box could be placed in the lower suite level, with something in place in the new seating bowl to block out the sun. In league with that transformation, the locker rooms would be moved to under the East lower seats. The space there is mostly used for storage. If not that kind of reuse, the Raiders could have a new press box above and lockers rooms below the redone western seats (old main bowl), though that would be more expensive. Then again, Orlando is somehow doing all of this for $200 million, so how much more could it cost Oakland? 50%? That’s still a no-brainer compared to the prospect of a $1 billion, 50,000-seat stadium. Another thing that would have to change, in order to accommodate 50,000 or so seats for the Raiders, is the removal of the upper deck of Mt. Davis. That would get rid of approximately 9,000 seats, leaving 13,000 seats on the East side. Now let’s say 1,000 more are removed to accommodate the press box move and the switch from some club seats to loge boxes, that’s 12,000. Even then, the Raiders and Oakland would only have to build 38,000 new seats, most of them concentrated in a single structure on the West side. Essentially, the new construction would be limited to a structure with the capacity of a ballpark, which should be significantly cheaper to implement.
There are any number of ways this could work. Maybe everyone decides to use half of the Mt. Davis upper deck instead of the whole thing. Or they could build a new cantilevered seating deck where the top suite level currently is. Either way it makes a ton more sense than spending $1 billion or more on a new stadium. It could be done in 12-18 months, which would force the Raiders to play in Santa Clara for a year. The model is there and proven, Oakland. Will Oakland have enough sense to consider it?