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Not just Sundays: Filling FirstEnergy Stadium with events

6:19 PM, May 28, 2013   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- The city owns First Energy Stadium, and taxpayers are paying for it. So why does it spend more than 330 days a year empty?

It's a question Channel 3 News dug into as the Cleveland Browns announced a fan kickoff concert in July featuring Bon Jovi.

"This is what this piece of earth was made for," said Councilman Joe Cimperman at the news conference announcing the concert, pep rally and fanfest in one.

Newly named FirstEnergy Stadium was built for more than football. Could new ownership and a positive Cleveland vibe may make this the time that finally happens?

"We all know, it's a 'Browns Town.' And my theory about the whole thing: It's also a rock and roll town so if you can't have a football game in a stadium, the next best thing is to have a rock concert," said native Cleveland rocker Michael Stanley, who will open for Bon Jovi.

Past and present players will also be on hand for intermission entertainment and contests, according to the Browns.

"This will be part of a broader fan experience initiative that we're going to put forward this year," said Browns President Alec Schneiner.

"I think, over time, you'll see the stadium more active than it has been in the past. This soccer game and this event will be the primary non-Browns major events that we'll host this year," said CEO Joe Banner. 

It's not just the team that can plan events at the stadium. The City of Cleveland gets eight days in its contract with the team to use the stadium for its own events -- like collegiate games and high school specials.

The city gets the stadium rent free, but you still have to turn on the lights," said Ken Silliman, Mayor Frank Jackson's chief of staff.

Silliman says utilities and concession costs alone start upward of $10,000, so finding the right event is a challenge.

But there's no one solely devoted to the task, like in other cities. Silliman says city officials, along with those invested in Cleveland tourism, event planning, schools and colleges, need to work together to maximize the use of the facility.

City officials hope a plan to develop the lakefront, along with downtown buzz, could help attract events to the stadium as a site.

And for high schools that could find the stadium's use cost prohibitive, perhaps even charitable organizations could help close the gap between what some can afford and the cost to operate.

"There's tremendous potential there, and we just need to get it in use throughout the year, more than we do now," said Silliman. 

The city welcomes your ideas and so does Channel 3 News. Tell us on our Facebook Page and we'll share your thoughts with city leaders.

Additional improvements to the stadium could make it easier to use and shop around.

Banner says there will be no physical changes to the stadium this year, short of ingress and egress flow changes, but expect major investments in years to come.

"We're just finalizing hiring an architect, we're just starting to get our own thinking solidified, we'll work together with the city as we go forward on all of this," said Banner. "It's really in that preliminary of a phase."

Banner would not comment further on proposed changes, but said the Browns plan to be transparent once the time is right.

Wednesday night the U.S. Men's soccer team will take on Belgium in the first event at FirstEnergy Stadium this year. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

WKYC-TV

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