Packers Punch

The Green Bay Packers are the NFL’s most successful team and, as Sue Holaday found out, a recent upgrade has created a state-of-the-art stadium that reflects the team’s status


It’s not every day that a foodservice consultant who’s a football fan gets to work on a project for one of her favourite teams, but that was the case for Tracy Taraski FCSI of The Bigelow Companies Inc in Kansas City, Missouri.

The company became involved in the Green Bay Packers’ expansion of Lambeau Field when the team decided to add 7,000 seats to the three-story south end zone along with new foodservice concessions, private clubs and team dining facilities.

“We worked on this for four years,” Taraski says, before confessing, “I’m a huge Packers fan. This was the dream of a lifetime, like walking on hallowed ground.”

The major renovation includes the new seats in the south end zone as well as 20 12-seat Terrace Clubs, the 160-seat Champions Club, two Miller Lite sections with 800-plus seats and more.

Green Bay Packers’ spokesperson Aaron Popkey puts the cost of the expansion at $146m, adding that Phase 2, slated for completion in June 2015, will bring the total cost to $286.5m. The latter phase will see the move of the team dining facility, now on a lower level, to new space in the atrium.

In the recently completed phase, an additional kitchen was added to the stadium’s third floor, another concession in the north end zone, 21 new south end zone concessions plus additional beverage areas.

The work moves Lambeau Field into third place on the NFL list of largest stadiums, and is projected to bring in an additional $12m in sales, or the equivalent of an extra game each season.

The field, Taraski explains, wraps around a seven-story arena in the north end zone and a three-story one in the south end, which was expanded to nine stories. “Miller Lite bought a whole level. There were concessions, bars and clubs throughout the new floors. A very exclusive private club was added on the ninth level.

Watching from above

The new spaces mean more foodservice sales. “Our ratio is one point of sale to 150 seats,” says Taraski. In clubs such as Miller Lite’s, guests watch the game from comfortable seats instead of bleachers [uncovered bench seats] for a higher-end experience.

The relocation of the team dining facility will be “the most fun,” she anticipates. “They’ve brought in a nutrition consultant, Dave Ellis, from Denver, whose slogan is ‘you’ve got to feed the machine’. There’ll be a specific menu plan with three categories of food and a lot of show cooking. The facility serves the players, coaches and trainers. It will seat about 250 and have buffet equipment and a smoothie bar. There will be a pasta machine and pasta cookers and a Belshaw oven.”

Taraski visited Brassmith (BSI) to develop sneeze guards and buffet counters “to make sure we were giving the team what they need”. She estimates the total equipment cost on the project at around $5 million.

In the south end zone expansion, an exclusive ninth floor club was developed in space originally set aside for a press room. “They decided to leave the press room on the sidelines of the seventh floor and did this club for the very high-end tickets, the most expensive in the building.”

Last year, Delaware North Companies paired with the team as its Sportservice Corporation took over the contract foodservice, formerly managed by Levy Restaurants, part of Compass Group USA.
Charlie Millerwise, general manager for Green Bay Sportservice, points to the “inclusive clubs” in which food is included in the ticket price as “an opportunity to do higher-end things.”

And that’s exactly where Sportservice is going at Lambeau Field, thanks to new kitchen equipment and technologies such as sous vide systems, a smoker, and more. “We do ceviche here, serve carved tenderloins, and are being more creative. In the Wood Stone oven, the chefs are doing bratwurst and cheese calzones and variations on s’mores, such as peanut butter cup,” says Millerwise.

New induction burners allow for “fresher presentation,” he points out, and the chefs “play with sous vide to do things we couldn’t normally do, such as cook brisket long and slow to bring out
the depth of flavour. The chefs also use it for pulled pork and a ham lollipop. Just because this building can feed 80,000 doesn’t mean you can’t do it well. Our focus is on creating food they’ll come back for.”

Menus change weekly with new items added in connection with the visiting team, but the favourite staples – bratwurst and cheese – are always available.

At Hammes Company, the sports development firm’s project manager Steve Zadra says the renovation transformed Lambeau Field into a year-around destination.

A challenge was starting the renovation –with construction of the steel structure for the seats, the video boards and the sports lighting – all while the team was still playing.

Pre-renovation, the Packers had no upper tiers of seating, and Hammes wanted to make it “extremely easy for fans in those seats to get to the food outlets and restrooms during half-time. We provided plenty of club-level concessions everywhere, not just for the premium area. There are minimal lines at half-time as a result.”

The goal from the very beginning was to stay true to who the Packers are and improve the fans’ experience. The project manager, Hammes Co, was familiar with Boston architects Elkus Manfredi, the firm involved in renovating one of its projects, the Edgewater Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin.

Introduced to the Packers by Hammes’ president, Elkus Manfredi co-founder David Manfredi made the case for enhancing the fan experience while staying true to the Packers’ historic roots. As a result, the smallest community in the National Football League (NFL) today has one of the biggest stadiums.

The design created a “Wall of Sound” with the renovation of the south end zone, joining such additions as the six-storey elevator tower with fan lounges, club spaces, more concessions, and new restrooms to the three-storey facility.

Elizabeth Lowery, director of interior architecture at Elkus Manfredi, calls the renovation “state of the art,” noting: “It was specific to their fan base. In the club level, the food offerings are elevated, offering more to their loyal fans and the owners.”

The “Wall of Sound” from the new courses, stacked one over another, creates a crescendo of cheering from the Packers’ fans, creating an even livelier experience for all.

“We wanted a variety of different experiences,” Lowery explains. “The various clubs offer ways for people to interact with the game. Level 5 has a Terrace Suites club that offers an open buffet, 110 seats and an interior room or an enclosed box. Different ways to experience the game appeal to many different types of people, allowing them to enjoy the game, conduct business or socialise.”

The clubs, from the highest to the lowest price points, received different finishes and “understated design – not a Disney-type experience,” says Lowery. “The design was all about football, the stadium and its position as the Empire State Building of Wisconsin. The service and the food here are equal to what you’d find at the Dallas Cowboys or world-class restaurants and the kitchen supports that. People come here in the coldest weather in down coats, so the spaces have to be durable too. The challenge architecturally was to work within the existing envelope and the team’s schedule. ”

“This team plays under the most extreme conditions, from a warm and sunny fall day to one that can be 14 degrees below zero,” says Kent Knight, project director for the Elkus Manfredi team. “The Packers tell you every day is Easter Sunday. The stadium is always full and you have to accommodate that.

“We had to melt snow in the upper level seats – we used a radiant slab there so if you know a blizzard is coming, you can keep the surfaces dry before kick-off. We worked very closely with the mechanical folks to let the design accommodate a range of capacity.”

On the scoreboard, they put a 60 ft wide by 40 ft high Packer G emblem. “In the north end zone, we did a roof deck under that with foodservice meals and a bar for fans. We did the same in the south end zone where the top level is 200 ft above grade, the highest point in Green Bay. We left room to do a sky bar there.”

The new clubs create a 365-days-a-year facility that can be used for business and private events all year round, completely transforming a formerly highly seasonal venue. The Terrace Club seats may be booked for weddings and a variety of other functions, bringing flexibility and a metropolitan ambience to Green Bay, Knight points out.

In addition, handicapped-accessible seating was increased from 56 seats to 733 in the renovation and traffic flow in both the north and sound end zones was improved greatly.


About the Packers

Based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA, the Green Bay Packers are members of the North Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) in the National Football League (NFL). Green Bay is the third-oldest franchise in the NFL, having been organised in 1919.  The Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States.

The Green Bay Packers have won more championships – 13 – than any other team in National Football League history, the last coming in 2010.

Green Bay also is the only NFL team to win three straight titles, having done it twice (1929, 1930, 1931 and 1965, 1966, 1967).

In addition, the Packers won the first two Super Bowls (over Kansas City in 1966 and over Oakland in 1967).

Since the league implemented a play-off system in 1933, the Packers have played in the NFL’s deciding game 13 times (10 NFL title appearances from 1936-67, three Super Bowls after the 1970 merger). Only the Giants (19) have played for more titles.

Sue Holaday