Falcons break ground on world-class stadium with memorable celebration

Jimmy Cribb/AtlantaFalcons.com

The new Atlanta stadium will not just be another football arena. It won’t just be for football, either. In fact, the ambitions for the facility are as lofty as the flames that shot out of the stage during the ceremonial groundbreaking Monday night at International Plaza.

A bevy of national sports figures and local celebrities were in attendance near the site of the new stadium to jubilate the opening of what the Falcons are aiming to be the worldwide standard for sports facilities.

“Our goal was real high,” said Falcons team president Rich McKay. “We’re not trying to build the next stadium, we’re trying to build an iconic stadium that makes a statement for Atlanta, not for the next five years, 10 years, 15, but for a long, long time. There are plenty of elements to the stadium that are really cool, but to take it as an entire package, we’re trying to build something that’s truly world class.”

McKay was joined by all of the Falcons’ top brass, including, of course, owner Arthur Blank. As he was at the MLS announcement last month, Blank seemed giddy that the day had finally arrived. The dapper owner made it clear that the stadium was being built not just for the Falcons, but to host many other opportunities as well.

“Atlanta needs a stadium for a variety of reasons,” said Blank. “One is to secure the National Football League franchise here for the next 35-40 years. We want to be able to attract a Major League Soccer franchise here, have a competitive environment here so that we can compete (to host) the SEC Championship game, the Chick-fil-A (Peach) Bowl, the NCAA Final Fours, and, hopefully, compete for the FIFA World Cup, when it’s back in the United States, as a host city and maybe a Super Bowl as well.”

The Super Bowl theme was obvious throughout the evening as important speakers such as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, as well as Blank, mentioned it in their brief monologues. Reed and Blank made references during their speeches about getting the NFL’s crowning jewel of a game back to Atlanta for the third time.

“I’d like to extend an open invitation for (Goodell) to come back any time he likes, especially if he wants to announce that we’re going to win the Super Bowl (host bid),” joked Reed.

Blank tried to dispel to memory of Atlanta’s last Super Bowl (2000), which was roundly criticized due to icy conditions and poor weather around the city.

“This weather is normal for Atlanta year-round,” he said of the perfect conditions Monday night.

Another comical part of the evening came from a group of the new “Terminus Legion,” loyal fans of Atlanta’s MLS franchise. They yelled and clapped loudly for anything and everything seen or mentioned that referred to their team. MLS commissioner Don Garber, another speaker at the event, referred to them during his speech and joked that he paid them to come and make noise. But Blank was clearly the group’s favorite person there; they chanted “Uncle Arthur” as he took the stage.

“He is Atlanta’s uncle,” said one of the Terminus Legion members of Blank. “We were really touched when, at the (MLS) announcement, he turned during his speech and said ‘We’re here for the fans,’ and that was not lost on us. We saw that and we want to thank him and let him know that we consider him family as well.”

The ceremony itself was a sight to behold. The audience was given 3D glasses to wear during a short video presentation that featured a Falcon flying through Atlanta and eventually ending up at midfield of the new stadium. Flame-shooting machines and fireworks surrounded the screen throughout the presentation. The podium from which the speakers presided was shaped like a large Falcons logo, which sank into the stage before the video. It made for a groundbreaking like no other.

“I’ve been to about three of four of them, but none quite like this,” said McKay. “They did a really nice job. The “other” Roddy White (the Falcons vice president of events) did a real nice job.”

Following the video and fireworks, Blank, McKay, Reed, Goodell, and several other key members of the stadium project donned shiny silver work helmets, grabbed brand-new shovels and began the ceremonial digging.

The event took place just across the street from the actual location of the new stadium, as preliminary construction work was taking place on the future stadium grounds. The $1.2 billion facility will seat 71,000 fans for football games, although temporary seating will be brought in for events like the Super Bowl and World Cup. It is scheduled to open in 2017.



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