With a hopeful eye toward improving the game-day experience for Washington Redskins fans, new owner Daniel M. Snyder has begun more than $15 million in improvements to two-year-old Jack Kent Cooke Stadium.
The measures, most of which are scheduled to be completed for the coming season, would make it more enjoyable and comfortable, Snyder said, to watch games in the 80,116-seat Landover venue.
Snyder hopes to make the commute easier for fans, whether driving or using public transportation, as well as create a more fan-friendly atmosphere in the parking lots and stadium.
The Snyder-led investment group, which recently bought the team and stadium from the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke for an NFL-record price of $800 million, believed the facility, as well as the team, needed significant revisions. John Kent Cooke, son of the late owner and president of the team until its sale, oversaw $25 million in improvement expenditures after one season.
Snyder's plans include:
An expenditure of $2.5 million in the 33,329-seat upper deck to replace metal pipes with glass so some views of the playing field won't be obstructed. This work is being done immediately. Also, a screen will be installed around the upper deck to decrease the buffeting effect of harsh winds.
The windows in the 1,506-seat loge section will be removed at a cost of roughly $1.5 million. Snyder also has replaced the food concessionaire at the loge and suite levels with Ridgewell's, the Washington-based caterer that has long served the nation's presidents and power brokers.
Waiter service will be introduced in the club level, which has nearly 15,000 seats, of which nearly 2,000 remain unsold (the Redskins plan an open house Saturday in hopes of selling them).
In addition, there will be improvements, Snyder believes, in the sound system this season. Two more Jumbotron screens, which feature giant replay boards, are expected to be installed for next season at a cost of $11 million.
The stadium's public-address system no longer will broadcast advertisements during games.
Finally, Redskins executives have met with Metro and Prince George's County officials to discuss how the public transportation system can be improved, with hopes of lessening pressure on the parking areas.
"We knew from the beginning we have a lot of work to do making the game-day experience more enjoyable," Snyder said this week.
Despite the Redskins' 6-10 record last season, 97 percent of the team's season ticket holders renewed their subscriptions, Snyder said. As a result, just 2,000 fans were moved off the season ticket waiting list, which has about 42,000 names.
Snyder, 34, a Bethesda native and lifelong Redskins fan, ordered the stadium improvements after spending several Saturdays touring the venue since his purchase was approved by NFL owners in May.
Snyder also implemented a dramatic, if smaller-scale, sprucing up at Redskin Park, the team's Loudoun County headquarters and practice facility, after finding its beige and burgundy design scheme too bland. When players return to Redskin Park on Aug. 19 after training camp at Frostburg State University, they will find the walls painted bold colors, as well as a new artificial turf field with a vivid Redskins helmet logo in the center.
The make-over will be more extensive at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, which was completed in 1997 after less than 18 months for about $180 million, with the state contributing $70 million in road construction. It will start with a good cleaning, however, and a fresh coat of paint in many places.
The stadium has drawn criticism from a number of longtime Redskin fans. "We have a great facility," Snyder said. "We're going to make it better."
While Metro service made RFK Stadium a quick and accessible destination for many spectators, Cooke Stadium, roughly five miles east of RFK in Prince George's County, requires a shuttle bus from its two nearest Metro stops. Moreover, service roads tie up quickly after games.
Two days after closing on his $800 million purchase, Snyder fired roughly 15 of the stadium's 60 employees, including stadium manager Jeff Klein. Michael Dillow, the venue's former executive vice president for stadium sales and marketing, has taken on additional responsibilities. Under Snyder's new organizational structure, the Redskins and the stadium will be managed as one company, rather than separate entities as they were previously. "Many of the complaints about the stadium will disappear when we win more football games," Snyder said.
Staff writer George Solomon contributed to this report.