About those renovations to the Superdome … today I share the good, the bad and the ugly from one season ticketholder’s perspective.
Let me get this out there first: I’m an avid Saints fan and a lifelong Superdome supporter. For more than three decades, Stewart and I have trekked faithfully to Poydras Street on Sundays rainy and steamy, cold and wet, to watch the black and gold.
And with great pleasure, even in the drought years. (I don’t mean that in a weather sense.)
Over time, as our bottom line increased, our seating level decreased. We’ve gradually moved from Terrace to Plaza, from the 600s to the 100s. In a bit of cosmic serendipity, our section and row numbers have declined as the Saints success inclined. In the past couple of years, we’ve had first-rate views of fleur-de-lis triumph.
So I’m thrilled that the Superdome got an $85 million facelift – a good chunk of it on the Plaza level, where my new Section 140 is located.
And on Friday night, at the Saints’ first 2011-2012 pre-season game, I got my first look at the new checkered non-slip floors, streamlined women’s bathrooms, glossy food stations, enhanced lighting and, especially, the realigned, blockier sets of Plaza seats.
Overall, the old grande dame of sports stadiums looks great. She’s had less of a facelift (or tummy tuck) and more of a costume change. Instead of vintage attire that’s rooted in the ‘70s, she’s now wearing contemporary, more sporty garb.
This is not a couture refit: The club seats are a durable synthetic weave, the floors a slightly rubbery terrazzo-patterned laminate. Inner ring food stations (single-themed carts selling beer, pretzels, Dippin’ Dots and the like) lean toward lower, sleeker metal and glass stands, while outer ring food stations (Parish Grill and those that sell more substantial lineups) have been brought to the edge of the concourse, rather than remain tucked into pockets along it. Restrooms, conversely, now are entered and exited through side doors and hallways, rather than doors at the concourse edge.
I’ve always loved the fact that the Superdome doesn’t look or feel like a typical sports stadium – the Eagles’ relatively new (2003) Lincoln Field in Philadelphia is all erector-set girders and open-air catwalks, while the Cardinals’ newer (2006) University of Phoenix stadium, with its oval concrete shell, reminds me a bit of Tiger Stadium. Not in a good way.
I love the sleekness of the Dome, which has always been more curves than angles, more gentle slopes than hard staircases. It is a building that has aged with elegance and class. Think greyhound rather than boxer.
The new redo, at least on the Plaza level, which is all I explored on Friday, has been rethought in a much more angular fashion. Seating sections are now rectangular, food stands more sharply edged, concourses leaning to wide straightaways rather than corner bends. On the lower level, three new (pricier) “Plaza Club” sections have been added on either side of the 50 yard line; the new “bunker club lounges” service these sections (which means I don’t have access with my “regular” Plaza ticket). For a nifty 3D tour of all sections of the new and improved Dome, click here.
Meanwhile, here is one person’s totally subjective, highly opinionated take on it. Many of you will disagree, and I invite you to chime in on the conversation.
The Good: Thirty stalls – count ‘em – thirty, in the nearest women’s bathroom. Sure, it was a preseason game, but I’ve never waited such a short time to, um, pee. I actually boosted my usual two beers to three. This could be a bad thing.
The Bad: In my area of the Dome, entries to the women’s bathrooms tended to be around the corner, in main gate aisles, while exits give onto the concourse. Although these are clearly marked, many women head straight for the nearer “out” hallway instead of making the turn to find the “in” door. Security personnel were stationed at the exits, to keep women from walking in the back door. Seems like a big expenditure in employee time and hours to me. But, hey, maybe we’ll learn the routes. Rookies usually do.
The Ugly: A dozen tiny antiseptic white porcelain sinks instead of that elegant circular hand-washing sprinkler of yore? I’m sure there’s a reason, but … Also, I’d heard that bathrooms will have TVs, but the women’s, at least, don’t yet – and nor was there the reassuring voice of Jim Henderson overhead, making sure we didn’t miss a big play while standing in line.
NEW FOOD CONCESSIONS
The Good: More choices; more stands. They’ve added meatball sandwiches at the Rotolo Pizza stand, and adding meatballs, even if it’s not on po-boy bread, can only be a good thing. The Zatarain’s jambalaya remains intact, and they have vastly upgraded the popcorn, with multiple new machines. The bigger concession stands – those purveying burgers, chicken tenders and the like – have more serving stations, and condiment areas (woefully insufficient before) are better placed and maintained. I even managed to snag a napkin well into the third quarter.
The Bad: The inner, freestanding concession stands are more product specific. Therefore, beer stands, say, sell only beer (what, no peanuts?! Two stops for beer and peanuts, really?). The outer, permanent stands are now directly adjacent to the concourse, so that lines tend to form into people’s path. The concourses are wider now, but the lines going perpendicular to traffic make for occasional roadblocks.
The Ugly: No chili dogs? Disaster! I go to the Dome as much for the junk food as the yard-line play. Like you, I have my staples. The new menu has only a basic dog; the only way to add chili and cheese is to buy them in a separate $2 container. And what is it with the waffle fries, which are now standard? Waffle fries just don’t fill a cup the way the old-fashioned ones do. Finally, the prices. The prices! I shelled out $18 for a pulled pork barbecue sandwich and a beer. My standard bag of peanuts now costs $4.25, and beers are $8.50. Dome prices have never been slim, but now it’s easy to run up a $40 or $50 food and drink tab. Just a glass of wine is $9, and if you like double shots in your cocktail, it will run you $14.
NEW CLUB SECTIONS
The Good: Crisp, clean new seating everywhere (although I don’t know how long that will last if fans like the hefty guy in front of me keep standing on them to climb over into a less crowded row behind to exit). There are more rows closer to the action, and 3,100 more seats for fans, surely a good thing, although that does bring me to …
The Bad: The reconfiguration shuffled people around. Everyone in my area was assigned new seats, and most people I talked to didn’t like the change. Including me. We were moved from the 30-yard line to the 20, and from 14 rows off the field to Row 8. The new row is so low to the field that it killed our sight lines, and when the TV truck rolls in front of us, we have to watch the monitors to follow the play. Other fellow season holders I talked to were not happy with the lower sight lines, nor the push toward the end zone. The new seatmates to our right, however, were happy with their placement: Their former section 147 had been completely lost to that Plaza Club addition in the redo, and they had been arbitrarily reassigned seats under the overhang in the end zone. They complained, and were moved to our section.
The Ugly: Again, prices. I’m paying $190 per seat per game. Ouch. And at that price, where the heck is my cup holder?
THE BOTTOM LINE
Despite the quibbles, the update keeps the Dome current. We certainly don’t need a new stadium given the great one we have. Like grandmother’s fin mahogany sideboard, the Dome may need an occasional refinishing, but will always wear well.
But I still think I deserve a cup holder.