Crew View: Your guide to the Crew’s new stadium
Lower.com Field opens Saturday as Columbus faces New England
When you arrive at Lower.com Field, it all makes sense.
It might seem a bit over-the-top: a new stadium for the Columbus Crew just 22 years after the team opened the last one? Admittedly, I’ve felt that way as recently as two weeks ago, when the team closed out Historic Crew Stadium with one last “dos a cero” for the road. On June 19, the energy inside the building formerly known as Mapfre was incredible. Whether celebrating a pair of Gyasi Zardes goals or giving the Crew a standing ovation as they circled the pitch after the final whistle, the sold-out crowd of 20,064 made the place feel vital. Was a move away from this American landmark — the first soccer-specific stadium in MLS, where so much history and so many memories were made — really necessary?
Officially, yes. The deal to keep the Crew in Columbus — hashed out in late 2018 in an unprecedented (and controversial) effort by civic leaders — hinged on the new ownership’s ability to secure a new Downtown stadium. MLS Commissioner Don Garber believed this city’s future as a flourishing soccer market depended on a move away from the relative isolation of the Ohio Expo Center and the not-so-flashy yellow bleachers Lamar Hunt built in a pinch in 1999. If the Crew was to stay here, it’d have to do so as the hot new thing once again, this time permanently situated in the city’s entertainment center alongside hockey, baseball and concerts.
Now that the team’s new home is ready, the league’s ultimatum feels more understandable. Lower.com Field is a remarkable facility. Whereas the team’s former home was charming at best even back in '99, its new fortress is intimidating and impressive. Although everything becomes obsolete eventually, this venue seems built to last a lot longer than two decades. It is also fancy enough that the team can get away with charging major-league prices that might make some longtime supporters flinch.
The new stadium opens this Saturday, July 3, with a 5 p.m. match pitting defending MLS Cup champions Columbus against the first-place New England Revolution — 631 days after breaking ground on Nationwide Boulevard west of Huntington Park, 995 days after news of the team’s impending salvation set off celebrations among the faithful and 1,356 days since soccer reporter Grant Wahl first tweeted, “Columbus Crew owner Anthony Precourt is set to move team to Austin, Texas, in 2019 if downtown stadium can't happen in Columbus.” Somehow, after almost a full presidential term’s worth of drama, the Save the Crew saga is getting its final epilogue.
Notably, New England was also the opponent for Historic Crew Stadium’s opening match on May 15, 1999, when Jeff Cunningham and Stern John supplied goals in the first of many memorable 2-0 wins for the home team at that venue. Bruce Arena, a holdover from that early era of MLS, has the Revs playing impressive soccer, so Columbus (currently fifth of 14 Eastern Conference clubs, with 15 points on a 4-3-3 record) will have to improve upon a loss to Philadelphia and a draw with Austin in road contests last week. Presumably that won’t be a problem for Caleb Porter’s boys given the electricity that will inevitably be in the air Saturday.
But enough about the actual soccer to be played this weekend. You’re probably wondering about the stadium. Here’s a quick blow-by-blow to give you the lay of the land.
Where is it? Lower.com Field’s official address is 560 W. Nationwide Blvd. It’s at the far western edge of the Arena District, tucked alongside the Olentangy River and viewable from I-670 as you enter and exit the downtown area. The surrounding area, now called Astor Park, is still in the process of being developed.
How do you get there? Columbus remains a car-centric city, and although a garage next to the stadium won’t be ready this season, the Crew has promised 6,300 parking spots within a 10-minute walk and 13,000 within a 15-minute walk. This includes temporary lots west of the stadium as well as the existing network of surface lots and garages throughout the Arena District. Expect to pay $10 to $15 to park. The team has published a detailed parking guide, where you can reserve a space ahead of time.
The guide also maps out some non-driving transportation options: There will be a rideshare drop-off and pickup area on Hanover Drive just south of Nationwide Boulevard. COTA has two stops near the stadium: ID#5914 at Neil Avenue and Brodbelt Lane and ID#7083 at Nationwide and McConnell boulevards. Line 3 runs through these stops every 30 minutes, and Line 8 comes through every 15 minutes. Franklinton Cycle Works is offering a free bike valet service to the east and west of the stadium for riders arriving from Downtown or via the new footbridge connecting Astor Park to the Olentangy Trail, and there’s a COGO Bike Station at Nationwide Boulevard and Neil Avenue.
What’s it like getting in? The main entrance is through the 62,000-square-foot Public Plaza on the southeast side of the stadium, accessible to even non-ticket-holders, which includes the Crew House restaurant and team shop and should be a fun place to grab a drink before entering. The Crew expects to hold concerts, watch parties and other events in this space beyond gamedays. On the opposite end, the Circle of Honor — formerly a list of names between the lower and upper decks of the old stadium — is now a monument outside the northwest entrance, with pictures and biographies of Brian McBride, Frankie Hejduk and the late Sigi Schmid.
Although fans can still scan their tickets using the Crew Mobile App or Ticketmaster, the team has partnered with Wicket on an optional facial recognition service called the Crew Express Account Program that will allow fans to enter without removing their phone from their pocket. A press release promises, “Fans can be assured that the Crew and Wicket are dedicated to protecting fans and their data, especially biometrics, and the data will not be sold or shared, only used to provide fan experience benefits.”
They’re also doing a touchless security screening: “By utilizing Evolv Technology, the world’s first and only touchless security screening solution, most fans won’t realize they’ve gone through a security screening. Lower.com Field guests will no longer have to stop and empty their pockets, as the cutting-edge technology will differentiate between personal items and threats.”
How about inside? An array of Columbus-based food vendors, including Donatos and Hot Chicken Takeover, have their own dedicated spaces within the concourse, in addition to concessions by Levy Restaurants. There are many luxury suites and clubs throughout the concourse, including the West Field Club, a VIP space the team will march through on its way to the pitch (beneath a gargantuan orb-like chandelier). The River Club, Rail Club and Lower.com Lounge are among the other premium sites within the stadium. Speaking of luxury: Parents of young children may be interested to learn the stadium includes two sensory rooms, two nurseries and a 1,000-square-foot playroom developed with COSI.
As for the normal seats — and they are individual seats now, rather than bleachers — they really do feel closer to the action, with good views from just about anywhere thanks to the stadium’s steep grade. Every seat is covered by a 220,000-square foot canopy, which should protect fans from rain and keep the stadium sounding loud. They’re supposedly as close to the field as MLS will allow — as much as 28 feet closer than at Historic Crew Stadium. Along the southern stands, beneath the appropriately massive main video screen, the Crew’s various championships (U.S. Open Cup, Supporters Shield, MLS Cup) are listed by year.
Across the way, the Nordecke supporters section now comprises the entire northern stands, a 3,356-capacity “safe standing” area with bars to lean on — preventing a human avalanche — but no actual seats. Situated just 18 feet from the pitch at a 34-degree angle (compared to 20 degrees at Historic Crew Stadium), it should be imposing. Above this area are two terraces and a beer garden, touted as the largest in MLS, while the secondary video screen is nestled in the northeast corner.
This new Nordecke comes with some new or updated traditions: Per the players’ request, fans will now sing “Wise Men” (the Crew-centric adaptation of “Can’t Help Falling In Love”) before and after the game. And in an homage to the original Crew logo with three construction workers, a fan will operate a jackhammer on a slab of concrete after each Crew goal. Whether this is more or less noisy than the Blue Jackets’ cannon remains to be seen. Assuming the Crew can find the back of the net, we’ll find out Saturday when Lower.com Field makes its big debut.