Some people initially saw the seatless expanse of gray concrete during a stadium tour, when photos were posted on a message board owned by the franchise. Then 52,000 concert-goers got a full view of the construction area when country star Kenny Chesney played at FedEx on Saturday night.
Redskins officials mostly have been mum, at least publicly, with team spokesman Tony Wyllie saying that an announcement would be coming shortly. On Monday, more details emerged.
People inside the Redskins organization said the seat removal is part of a multimillion dollar renovation project that ultimately will include two “party decks” and other amenities for fans similar to those provided at newer NFL stadiums. FedEx, which opened in 1997, is now the oldest stadium in the NFC East.
The second party deck will go above the other end zone. The project is scheduled to be completed before the 2012 season.
One individual associated with the team declined to disclose the precise number of seats being removed, except to say it would be in the thousands. The work will reduce the stadium’s capacity to about 85,000, from its current 91,704 this season. (Dallas’s new stadium seats 80,000 fans during the regular season, but can be expanded to 111,000.)
The construction means that no fans on the Redskins’ season ticket waiting list will be able to buy tickets this year, one person inside the organization said. The Redskins have long maintained that they have a season ticket waiting list comprising tens of thousands of fans and that it takes years for new season tickets to become available.
On the decks, fans will be able to participate in pregame and postgame festivities and buy standing room viewing tickets, according to the people interviewed, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because plans are still being finalized.
“It’s keeping up with the Joneses,” one person with knowledge of the plans said. “The modifications, and the party decks, are keeping with a trend of what Jerry Jones did in Dallas, and what Tampa Bay has. [The decks] are affordable, fun areas where people like to hang out before, during and after games.”
Cranes arrived at FedEx Field on Monday to begin removing the concrete that served as a foundation for the upper-level end zone seats. According to a “commercial interior permit” issued by the Prince George’s County Department of Environmental Resources, the Redskins asked to “install club level platform structure.” The supports for the party decks will be above the club level, people familiar with the project said.
One person said the Redskins have moved fans with seats in the construction areas using their annual relocation process. Under this system, the person said, when season ticket holders with better seats do not renew, fans with seats in the 400-level end zone areas normally are moved into better seats — closer to the field, or closer to the 50-yard line, depending on the fan’s preference. Fans on the waiting list are then given seats in the upper-level end zone areas.
One individual said that Redskins officials knew the decision to rip out thousands of seats rather than offer them to waiting list fans could create concern among fans waiting to buy tickets. But the team also faced the uncertainty of the NFL lockout.
“The concern was that fans that had been on the waiting list for 16 seasons were suddenly up, but were being asked to pay for a season that might not happen,” one person said. “The feeling was that it would be unfair.”
Ultimately, the person said, team owner Daniel Snyder and team officials elected not to pursue sales to fans on the waiting list, and to begin the renovation project. Next offseason, however, waiting list sales will resume and fans will remain in the same spots on the list, the individual said.
Staff writers Dan Steinberg and Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.