By Rory D. Sharrock
Ever since the landmark groundbreaking ceremony in 1989, preceding its 1992 debut, the Georgia Dome has stood tall as one of the marquee settings of downtown Atlanta and a staple of the city’s skyline.
Throughout its 20-year history, the Georgia Dome has operated as a hotbed for a variety of sporting activities, bringing herds of fans from across the globe to Atlanta. While the site’s primary draw is serving as the home turf for the Atlanta Falcons, the Georgia Dome has also opened its doors for major events including two Super Bowls (XXVIII, XXXIV), the 1996 Summer Olympics, NCAA Final Four (men’s and women’s), state high school football championship games and religious gatherings, including the Passion Conference and MegaFest.
Although the venue has enjoyed two successful decades with millions of people walking through its turnstiles, a change very well may be on the horizon that will alter the cityscape. Executives with the Falcons, the Georgia World Congress Center and local politicians are in preliminary discussions to construct a state-of- the-art retractable roof stadium at the corner of North Avenue and Northside Drive across from Antioch Baptist Church North.
According to reports from the American Institute of Architects, the development would include a stadium capacity of 72,000 seats (expandable to 80,000 for special events) that would be commensurate with other NFL venues and consistent with league arrangements. The AIA has estimated costs for building a retractable roof stadium at $947.7 million, a good amount more than the estimated $859.3 million price tag to renovate the current facility. If this proposal comes to fruition, construction would begin in January 2014 and run continuously through December 2017.
The push for change is reflective of drastically changing NFL economics in the last 20 years, since moving into the Georgia Dome from the Fulton County Stadium. In order for the Falcon franchise to remain competitive other than with ticket prices, it would need to build more suites and amenities — a major selling point with the new, retractable roof stadium.
The Georgia World Congress Center also plays a significant role in the decision to either renovate the current site or demolish it and start fresh elsewhere. The adjacent convention building has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with its next door neighbor and would likely see substantial changes during the construction period. GWCC executive director, Frank Poe, acknowledges that any new arrangement must be something that benefits citizens, the Falcons and the GWCC.
“Our board is certainly committed to ensure we work very hard and deliberatively to try to get a business deal that makes sense for the state and certainly understands some of the needs of the Falcons,” says Poe.
Constructing a project of this magnitude would be a daunting task with several pros, cons and questions from all angles. How much will this cost the taxpayers? How will this affect traffic? Will a new stadium bring the Super Bowl back to Atlanta?
Atlanta City Council member Michael Julian Bond, whose jurisdiction includes the area that encompasses the Georgia Dome, favors the idea for constructing a new venue.
“I support the building of a new stadium. I’m also interested in what will happen to the existing stadium. I believe we need to keep the Falcons downtown in the convention district,” says Bond. “The taxpayers would benefit from the added sales tax revenue for such a venue downtown. The tax revenues that would be used to support the building of the stadium would come from the hotel/motel tax, which is paid by visitors of the hotel district. Local residents wouldn’t feel a pinch tax wise for funds being used to build this stadium.”
While the added tax for visitors would cover a portion of the expenses, it’s still too early to know how much of the bill would be paid by the Falcons.
In a statement released in Spring of 2012, team president Rich McKay said, “I think we have negotiated enough to understand what we think the financing plan would look like, and I think we would be prepared to make a deal on those terms.”
Notwithstanding the close-to-$1 billion price tag, there’s no overstating the impact the stadium project would have on the city’s sagging employment rate. And this time around, Bond wants to see an extra emphasis on incentives for area residents to reap the monetary benefits of this project.
“There would be jobs created in the construction of a new stadium. Unlike before when the dome was built, we have the vested perspective of what would go around the development of that stadium,” says Bond. “Perhaps we could use that wisdom to not only have the community benefit from the construction of the stadium, but build an economic culture of interest around the stadium.”
And then there’s the traffic.
A development of this scale has the potential to amplify the congestion on the streets and the nearby interstates. The antidote, according to Bond, could be the passing of the Atlanta BeltLine Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax along with the usage of MARTA, which would minimize log jams on game day and other special events.
“I don’t see traffic being any more of an issue than it is today. Hopefully, the transportation SPLOST passes this Summer; then people can ride the Beltline,” says Bond. “I don’t see parking being a problem as much as it was when the original dome was built. When the Georgia Dome was built, the Vine City community was adamant that they didn’t want any parking encroachment. The residents have changed over time and they’re not as strict as they used to be.”
Of the last nine Super Bowls, five of them have been played in stadiums that were less than 10 years old at the time the game took place.
A possible return of the Super Bowl will go a long way toward quelling the complaints of bottleneck road jams. The Super Bowl, arguably the biggest event in American sports, would generate millions of dollars for the area. Of the last nine Super Bowls, five of them have been played in stadiums that were less than 10 years old at the time the game took place. Based on this trend, it would appear that a new stadium would be the only thing standing in the way of Atlanta hosting the Super Bowl for a third time.
“We understand the value and benefit of a first class, state- of-the-art sports venue and its attraction for would-be sports properties looking at bringing an event to Atlanta,” explains Dan Corso, executive director of the Atlanta Sports Council. “Sporting events generate millions in economic development and create goodwill, a strong quality of life and increased brand awareness for our region.” AT
Published in July 2012