SITTING IN THE CHEAP SEATS: Falcons new stadium will happen; where it should go and when it should be built

I wrote it three years ago. We put it on the cover of Score Atlanta. The headline referred to "Take It Outside.”
Look, ever since Falcons owner Arthur Blank put millions into renovating the Georgia Dome, it has been a respectable venue. It looks good, feels good and is a good venue for football. But this is Atlanta and the weather is certainly not one of our problems. I want to see Matt Ryan throw in the sunshine. I want a cold wind running my hair when the team is in the thick of a division race in late November. I want to wear a coat to a game when Michael Turner is tearing it through the line in late December.
Yes. Having a very close relationship with the Falcons, the organization has a plan and is focused on it. The ability for team president Rich McKay to focus most of his time on the project is key, much like Stan Kasten did when Turner Field and Philips Arena were built. And when Blank sets his heart on something, he finds a way to get it done and always in a way that benefits more than just himself or the team.
The questions are: when will it be done, where will it be built and who pays for it?
First, the venue needs to remain downtown and I feel strongly something can be done similar to what they did for the 1996 Olympics when they built the Olympic Stadium. Then, after renovating it for baseball, the Braves tore down Atlanta-Fulton Stadium and renamed the stadium Turner Field.
So here is how I would do it:
*Find a way to acquire the property across and somewhat west of the Dome. The area right now is either dirt parking lots or rundown housing. Then once the new building is up and running, the Dome can be imploded and turned into a huge parking garage. This would also service the World Congress Center, where parking can definitely be improved.
*The financing is a little tricky but consider that by the time a new stadium is built, the bonds for the current Dome will be paid for. I imagine Arthur will kick in quite a lot of his own funds and, while our economy is lousy, the Dome has always been a money maker and in addition to the 10 times the Falcons are at home every year, produces more than 200 events. Also, this is not going to take money out of the taxpayers’ pockets. Like the bond referendum to build the current Dome, the city can basically loan the money at a reasonable interest rate and I think it is a good bet that every penny interest will be paid back, including interest. Arthur always puts his money where his mouth is, which would lessen the financial burden on the city.
*I wouldn’t build a palace like Dallas, did but it definitely needs to have a retractable roof, giving the city the ability to continue to host the many big events that need to be inside. Also, this gives Atlanta a chance to design a better place to host such events as the Final Four, which is a tough one to watch at the Dome which was not designed in any way to host basketball.
*Start planning now and have everything in place to begin building in the spring of 2012 and have a new retractable roof stadium ready for the Falcons’ 2014 season. There is a huge difference between now and when the Georgia Dome was built. I actually covered part of that story for the AJC, the part where Falcons owner Rankin Smith Sr. said he may move the team to Jacksonville if a new football stadium wasn’t built. Though I always thought Smith was bluffing, it worked and, looking back, it was a great move for the city as the SEC Championship game alone is a huge economic and branding hit for this city and would never have happened if we didn’t have the Dome. At the same time, Blank wants a place he can control, bringing in the revenue he needs to justify the $500-million plus he paid for the team. Some will say if that’s the case then Blank should pay for it himself. I disagree, as unlike the first Dome which was built all on bonds, the city has a real partner in Blank, who pulled out his wallet and made the Dome what it is today instead of the antiquated place it was a few years ago.
*Finally, here’s how it all comes together: Arthur puts up $200 million, the city puts up or loans the other $500 plus million and we get a great retractable roof stadium that we all will love. So when it is a beautiful fall afternoon and the Falcons are playing the Saints, the roof is open. But when it is late November and cold and rainy and the Colts are in town, the roof is closed as it will be for the many other events the new stadium hosts.
But remember this: Who says that roof can’t be open for the SEC Championship game? I can remember plenty of December nights in Atlanta where it’s been in the 60′s and clear and would it be awesome to watch Alabama and Florida battle it out under the stars.
Make it happen, Arthur. Work out a deal with the city of Atlanta. This does nothing but strengthen Atlanta as a sports town and, of course, let us purists watch football the way it was intended to be watched ─ and that is outdoors.

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