GREEN BAY - In 2003, Lambeau Field was transformed in a $295-million renovation project, paid for in part, by Brown County taxpayers. It turns out, that was just the beginning.
Eight years after the renovation, the Packers added two new gates, scoreboards, a new sound system and 7,000 seats. Total cost: $146 million.
Now, the team is poised to spend another $140.5 million to renovate the Atrium. The Hall of Fame will move from the basement to the second floor; Curly's Pub will go from the second floor to the first; The Pro Shop will go from the first floor to the ground level.
One way team officials describe the Atrium project is by comparing it to a walk out basement. Much of the area in front of the Atrium will be excavated and the new Pro Shop will be level with the parking lot to the east.
The famous statues of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi will be moved but the area of Bob Harlan directly in front of the Atrium gate will remain.
"When the atrium was added in 2003, we didn't anticipate how big and how popular the Pro Shop would become," Packers president Mark Murphy.
FOX 11 On Special Assignment asked Murphy, who was not with the team during the initial project, whether some of the changes should have been thought of and should have been part of that original plan.
He replied, "It's like when you've lived in a house for a while, there are certain things you can't know until you've lived in it and I think that's part of it. Part of it, and I think funding became a little bit of an issue so some changes were made to make sure everything came in under budget."
One example of that is a service tunnel. Murphy says back in 2003, there wasn't enough money to put one in. Now, one will be put in to connect the loading dock area to the atrium. While fans may not notice, Murphy says putting in the service tunnel will make a huge difference for the organization.
"Right now it's really difficult to get our product in and out of the store. It'll be much more efficient," Murphy said.
FOX 11 On Special Assignment also asked the executive director of the stadium district, Pat Webb, whether the work being done now should have been done in the first place.
"Part of it is hindsight, but I think the Packers have had 10 years to live in this building," he replied. "The Packers are in a business and they've evaluated this and think this is a necessary improvement."
While the changes may be necessary, some, like Stadium Sports Bar owner Jerry Watson still question the work.
"What took you 10 years?" Watson asked.
But when asked if the decision to switch things around at the Atrium made sense from a business perspective, Watson replied, "Yes. I honestly think so. I always thought it was totally insane to have everything where they had it. So to move it to where they're moving it, I think it's a really, really good idea."
St. Norbert College economist Kevin Quinn says the changes to the atrium will give it a new look and attract people who may not have visited the stadium for a few years.
"You need to give somebody a reason to come and drop their money," Quinn said. "They are providing opportunities for people to have connection with the team in person, generate revenues, that is not as costly as season tickets and I think it's going to work."
One thing that separates the current renovation projects from the original one is funding.
"The best thing is there's no public money," Murphy said. "It's all the Packers and the league."
Quinn says the Packers have plenty of money to spend. In 2010, the team made a $12 million profit. It jumped to $43 million in 2011. There's also the $67 million the team made from a stock sale.
"What else would they do with this money?" Quinn asked. "What else would we prefer them to do with this money? As somebody who lives here, to spend it locally, to develop something that makes Green Bay more of a destination, is a laudable goal."
So what does the future hold? FOX 11 On Special Assignment asked Murphy what project he could see in the next 10 years.
"I think the next big thing that I could see would be changing, especially in the premium area, maybe some of our seating options," Murphy replied. "Maybe some of the club seats are a different type of seating option for people. Maybe we change some of the suites."
One thing fans can count on, as long football teams need money, the Packers will look for ways to get more people to the stadium.
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