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New Falcons Stadium: A Glimpse at the What's Coming in 2017

A review of what lies ahead for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium, which will be built in downtown Atlanta for the 2017 NFL season.

Scott Cunningham

A Falcoholic reader was present at a meeting of season ticket holders held to discuss the new Atlanta Falcons stadium. We present the following report from that reader.

On Monday, the Atlanta Braves cause a bit of a media frenzy by announcing their intentions to relocate the Braves from their downtown Turner Field location to a new facility in Cobb County to start the 2017 season. You may have heard that another Atlanta-based team will also have new duds to start the 2017 season; however, in the case of our beloved Falcons, their new stadium will remain a part of the downtown landscape.

While the Braves' announcement has given rise to lots of questions, this past Sunday morning, just before the Seahawks/Falcons game, the Falcons offered up some answers about the proposed new stadium. A select group of season ticket holders were invited to the Georgia World Congress Center for a discussion with Atlanta Falcons President and CEO, Rich McKay, the lead architect for the new stadium, Bill Johnson from 360° Architects, and Senior VP of Sales and Marketing, Jim Smith. I attended the event and wanted to share with the Falcoholic crew my observations.

The session began with some comments from Rich McKay about the decision to build a new stadium and the vision of the project. Here are a few highlights from McKay’s remarks:

  • The decision to move was not due to any dislike for the GA Dome; based on the estimated costs of renovations and a 10 year extension, they decided to use that same investment to build something for Atlanta’s future
  • New facility would leverage Atlanta’s ability to host major events, such as the super bowl, final 4, SEC championship and hinted that negotiations are ongoing for 2 big events
  • The challenge issued by Mr. Blank to the firms bidding on the project was to create a stadium that would be a "game changer." If it wasn’t going to be a game changer, then there was no need to bother doing it;
  • For current season ticket holders, as of right now, there is no schema in place to determine how for how our current seats in GA Dome will map into the seating bowl at the new stadium; however, the plan is to construct a new sales center that will allow season ticket holders to come down and be taken through the process (it could open as early as next fall, but possibly later);
  • There is also no current information about the likely costs associated with the personal seat licenses (PSLs); however, he did acknowledge that there would indeed be PSLs.

After McKay spoke, there were a couple of video presentations highlighting some of the planned features of the new stadium. We then heard from the lead architect, Bill Johnson. Here are a few of the highlights:
There was a desire to build something iconic for the city of Atlanta. His firm feels that Atlanta deserves to have the best NFL stadium that provides a great game-day experience in all facets (i.e., entering, exiting and everything that happens in between);

  • Their design plan actually started with the ideal to have the roof open outward from the centers; moreover, the building edges are inspired by falcon wings;
  • The design includes a "city window," in which one segment of the building is completely glass so that the city skyline can be seen from inside;
  • Unlike the giant video scoreboard at Cowboys Stadium, they are considering a "video halo" that will provide a 360 degree scoreboard experience (for instance, if you’re sitting in the endzone section, you can look up and see the game action from that perspective;
  • There will be plenty of premium seating areas and suites, including ground-level endzone suites and a club that sits behind the player benches;
  • Although not set in stone, one idea being considered is a 100-yard bar. You read that correctly. Well, it won’t be 100 yards of alcoholic beverages, but a "bar" nonetheless. So that fans won’t lose track of the game while getting up for concessions, there will be a yellow line (like the first down line we see on TV) that will move with the ball so that we know where the action is on the field. Not sure if Mr. Johnson was joking, but he mentioned that if the yellow line lands on you while sitting at the bar, you’d get a free shot of Jager. I’m gonna hold him to that!

The floor was then open for questions. Here are some of the ones I can recall:

One fan expressed concern about the $1.2 billion dollar budget, which is $200 million (or 20%) higher than the $1 billion dollar amount cited in the papers. He opined that such a big jump, prior to breaking ground, was either due to deceit or ineptitude. McKay responded that there was never an internal budget of $1 billion. That amount was based on someone’s estimate of what a stadium with certain features, size, etc. might cost. However, this estimate was not the direct result of looking at plans. As noted earlier, the building has a lot of edges and moving parts. It’s very costly, but he did not appear to be overly stressed out about it. Further, McKay indicated that, despite the need for PSLs, they want the conversion of season ticket holders from the GA Dome to the new stadium to be similar to the conversion from Fulton County Stadium to the GA Dome.

Another fan asked about the acoustics/loudness of the new stadium. Mr. Johnson pointed out that the roof opening covers the field only, whereas the seating bowl will be covered by a hard surface that will create a "cavernous roar" and should give the Falcons a competitive advantage.

Next, there was a question about technology and how the stadium plans can anticipate where technology will be in 2017. McKay said that this is certainly a concern and that they wish to have an infrastructure in place that can accommodate changes in technology over time. He indicated that they are taking a similar approach to what the 49ers are doing with their new facility hopes to exceed it.

There was a follow-up question about whether the roof could be closed during the game. McKay cited the 90-minute rule requiring that teams must declare whether the roof is to be open or closed 90 minutes prior to kickoff. He did point out that, unlike other stadiums with retractable roofs, the new stadium design will not simply be a "sunroof." That is, when the stadium is open, it is really open with natural ventilation. Based on the team’s open/close criteria, McKay stated that the roof would have been open for every home game this season. In addition, their studies suggest that the roof would be open for about 60%-70% of games, far exceeding the 25% frequency across the league.

A new season ticketholder, sitting in the upper level of the GA Dome said that he enjoys his seats, but does not like the fact that he can’t go to the lower level for better food options. He contrasted this with his experience at Turner Field (oops!) whereby he could go anywhere he wanted for concessions. McKay said that the plan for the new stadium is to ensure that fans could circulate throughout the building and, as for concessions, they are looking into several options to improve those, both at the dome before 2017 and at the new stadium.

There was a question about whether the construction would include minority contractors. Mr. Johnson said that since this is Atlanta’s stadium, he wanted local firms to be involved. He indicated that his firm is the lead architect, but they have 3 Atlanta-based firms working with them, one of which is minority-owned, while another is women-owned. They also have a consultant team of 19 businesses, several of which are minority-owned. Mr. Blank and Mr. Johnson want to do everything to engage the community in this project.

I will say that I came away very impressed by the presentation. I’m pretty excited about the new stadium. Also, it is worth pointing out the contrast between the Braves’ decision to move to Cobb County and Arthur Blank’s desire to build an Atlanta icon. Let’s just hope the Falcons can become an icon in the near future as well.

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