Lions ready to unveil character-filled Ford Field
The Lions' new stadium, Ford Field, brings the team back to downtown Detroit. Associated Press Photo.

DETROIT -- Bill Ford wanted to be able to stand in the middle of Ford Field and know he was in Detroit.

He can.

Fans will be able to see the Motor City's skyline through a 65-foot-high glass wall and catch a glimpse of the Hudson's warehouse, which was built in 1920, from inside the Lions' new $500 million indoor stadium.

The Lions' last game in the Pontiac Silverdome on Jan. 6, 2002, was a nostalgia-free event, thanks to a bland combination of steel, an inflated fiberglass roof and a sea of concrete.

Ford Field, by contrast, oozes character.

"We started out with the premise that all domed stadiums were cold, sterile and lacked personality," said Ford, chairman of Ford Motor Co. and vice chairman of the Lions. "When we decided to make it an indoor stadium, I challenged the architects to make me fall in love with it, and I have. What I see now is beyond my wildest dreams.

"I think Ford Field blends the best of old Detroit and new Detroit."

Ford Field's opening -- an exhibition game against Pittsburgh on Aug. 24 -- will mark the first time the Lions have had a home in downtown Detroit since they moved to the Silverdome in 1975.

It looks like a 1.8-million-square foot loft apartment with exposed brick, heating and cooling ducts. Plenty of natural light shines through windows and translucent panels.

Just across the street from Comerica Park, the Tigers' home since 2000, a seven-story atrium will welcome Ford Field visitors. A silver, blue and white terrazzo floor has been installed, complete with the Lions' logo, below a glass wall that extends nearly from the floor to the steel roof.

The stadium has 65,000 seats, about 15,000 fewer than the Silverdome; 132 suites with up to 50 cozy seats; and 8,700 padded club seats with access to separate lounges, bars and concession stands.

"We set out to create character, and we've blended a lot of elements to make that happen," said Lions executive vice president Tom Lewand, who has supervised the design and construction, which began in 1999.

Games will be played on a synthetic surface, FieldTurf, which looks like grass. Sand and tons of ground up recalled Firestone tires are in it to make for a softer surface. A brick wall similar to the one at Michigan Stadium surrounds the field.

Two digital video monitors measuring 96-by-27 feet loom over each end zone. There's also a state-of-the art audio system.

"It creates excitement," said coach Marty Mornhinweg. "I think it's broken the mold for stadiums. And I think when you combine Ford Field with our new day-to-day home in Allen Park, we have two of the finest facilities in football."

Ten-year veteran Robert Porcher and rookie Joey Harrington are the only Lions who have seen Ford Field. The rest of the team will tour the facility two days before the exhibition game against the Steelers.

"The place is magnificent," Porcher said. "It's awesome to be with this organization when we go back where we should be, in downtown Detroit."

The Silverdome may have two advantages over Ford Field: parking and room for tailgating.

While the Silverdome was surrounded by thousands of parking spaces, Ford Field is in the middle of Detroit's burgeoning sports and entertainment district where small surface lots are plentiful and huge parking structures are not.

The Lions provided their season-ticket holders with locations and contact numbers for private lots, but won't have a huge lot of their own to accommodate fans.

Although the city prohibits flammable materials and open alcoholic beverage containers in the downtown district, it recently designated a one-by-six-block area for tailgating activities. The district northeast of downtown, known as Eastern Market, is about a 10-minute walk from Ford Field or a short ride on an inexpensive shuttle.

Though the Lions are sensitive to the passion many Michiganders have for tailgating, they're hoping some fans will start a new tradition by coming to Ford Field to eat -- anything from hot dogs to tiramisu -- and drink before games.

Most NFL stadiums are dormant on non-game days, but Ford Field won't be.

In addition to the Oct. 12 Rolling Stones concert and the 2006 Super Bowl, Bill Ford hopes the facility could host events such as the 2004 Democratic National Convention and an NCAA Final Four.

"We should be able to attract those events and many more because there are not many state-of-the-art facilities with 65,000 seats in the middle of an urban setting," Ford said. "And we have the flexibility to accommodate smaller gatherings, which I think is great."

Construction worker Mark Dilaura has had a firsthand look at the stadium's transformation from a big hole in the ground to a gleaming landmark. He's been installing glass -- and "there's plenty of it," he said -- on and off for 18 months.

"This place is amazing," Dilaura said. "It was interesting to see all of the old and new things come together."

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