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Spectator Plaza has something for every fan

Tuesday, 12.30.2008 / 6:10 PM / Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

CHICAGO - Nick Gennarelli only has a limited space to work with, but he's packing a heck of a lot into Spectator Plaza, located on the corner of North Clark Street and Waveland Avenue.

Gennarelli, a Manager in the NHL's Events & Entertainment department, has put together a special two-day fan extravaganza called Spectator Plaza for anyone planning to come down to Wrigleyville either Wednesday afternoon for the practice day or Thursday for the Winter Classic itself.

Spectator Plaza opens Wednesday at 11 a.m. and will remain open until 5 p.m. On Thursday, game day for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings, Spectator Plaza will be open from 9 a.m. until noon.

"For the 31st I'm hoping or wishing for 1,000 and will be happy for 500 people," Gennarelli told NHL.com. "On game day we're competing against all the bars, but with the music playing, the fence dressed up and the video board high in the sky, I think people will be naturally drawn on their way into the stadium to at least take a peak in here and stop on through."
   
Spectator Plaza will be packed with many things to do.

"Hopefully fans flock over here cause we'll have a lot of noise and it will look like something," NHL Senior V.P. of Events and Entertainment Don Renzulli told NHL.com.
   
Verizon has created a small rink where fans will be able to shoot on digital images of either Blackhawks goalie Cristobal Huet or Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood. The puck will fly into a green screen and a video of you shooting can be sent to your Verizon Wireless phone. Fans will also be given the chance to win two tickets to the 2008 NHL All-Star Weekend in Montreal.
   
Wednesday's practice sessions are closed to the public, but the NHL Network-broadcast feed will be shown live on a 14 x 18-foot LED video screen in Spectator Plaza. There won't be an audio feed, however, because there will be music blaring in the Plaza.
   
Bud Light is sponsoring a food and beverage tent that features propane heaters to make it warm. There will also be an air hockey table inside.

"In Buffalo (last year) there was a private food and beverage area you were contained in a specific area after buying your stuff," Gennarelli said. "Here the difference is the whole Spectator Plaza is fenced in so you can buy your stuff in the food and beverage tent and take it anywhere you choose."

WGN 720AM radio will be broadcasting live from Spectator Plaza on Wednesday from 1-4 p.m.. They plan to have special guests Stan Mikita and Denis Savard from the Blackhawks as well as Renzulli and Dan Craig from the NHL.

There will also be a contest held to give away a pair of tickets to the game.

"They are going to be interviewed by WGN and talk to the crowd and I always think that is more engaging to the fan and more rewarding than standing on a cold line and getting a chance to talk to them for one second," Gennarelli said. "I think it's more personal to hear them talk and if they get a chance to get up to them and get an autograph, that's gravy. We think this is better for the group that comes down."

There will be two merchandise tents open on both days and Honda will be displaying two of their popular vehicles, the 2009 Ridgeline and Pilot.

The additions for Thursday include a local cover band, Maggie Speaks, playing from 9:45-11:30 a.m., as well as jugglers, stilt walkers and six face painters from Chicago-based Productions USA for the kids to enjoy.

Spectator Plaza will close at noon and the area will turn into a bus lot for the teams as well as an ambulance area.
   
"For the general public, that will be an exciting little area for them to get excited for the game and then they'll come in and we'll show them the big show," Renzulli said.
   
Gennarelli said he and his colleagues have been working on producing Spectator Plaza for two months. They contracted with HOK, a global architectural firm with offices around the globe, including 15 in the United States alone.
   
The NHL's corporate marketing department helped with the placement of the corporate sponsors such as Honda, Verizon and Bud. The difference between this year's version and last year's version is its size.
   
In Buffalo, Spectator Plaza was designed as a glorified tailgate area and it took up 5,000 parking spaces. The area around Wrigley, specifically the lot the Cubs recommended to the NHL, is obviously much smaller.

Gennarelli still expects a full house.

"I'm dealing with a much tighter space, but it will fit and one thing I'm looking forward to this year is going inside Wrigley Field, up to the top, and taking a sneak peak leaning over the railing and looking down upon Spectator Plaza and seeing it full," Gennarelli said. "I was able to go in the cherry picker last year to take some photos."

As a bonus to the city of Chicago, the NHL has used local vendors to make Spectator Plaza come to life. The video screen, truss archway and speakers are all rented from local vendors. A unionized crew has assisted in the construction of the entire project.

"We come to Chicago and we put money into the city," Gennarelli said. "I think that's important for any event. We most certainly did it in Buffalo, too."
   
Coming down on game day? Renzulli warns anybody planning on coming to the Winter Classic on Thursday or who just wants to be in the neighborhood for game day should do their best to take mass transit because parking is limited.
   
He said the city has added extra bus lines and cars in the trains to accommodate the flock of people to the area.
   
The gates to Wrigley Field will open at 10 a.m. Thursday, enough time to get in, get settled and enjoy some of the pre-game festivities, including an on-field ceremony honoring Chicago sports legends Ryne Sandberg, Ferguson Jenkins, Billy Williams, Bobby Hull, Mikita and Savard.
   
Hull and Red Wings legend Ted Lindsay will take part in the ceremonial puck drop prior to the start of the game.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com