As work progressed on the design of their new stadium, the Atlanta Falcons faced a choice: Pour a lot more money into the building, or scale back on its costly features.
The team chose to spend more, revealing last week that it will commit another $200 million to the project to boost the budget to $1.2 billion. The increased cost doesn’t change the taxpayer contribution.
Although a variety of factors drove up the price, including property acquisition and road work, Falcons president Rich McKay said the majority of the increase was attributable to the building’s “complex, iconic design.”
When it became clear that costs were mounting, lead architect Bill Johnson said, “We asked the team if this design is something you want us to continue to pursue. And they said, ‘Absolutely, yes.’”
Construction is scheduled to begin in April and be completed in 2017. Over time, the Falcons expect to recoup their investment and more through higher revenue generated in the stadium.
Based on recently finished schematic drawings, here are some of the stadium’s key features and comments from Johnson, senior principal of Kansas City-based 360 Architecture:
ROOF WITH VIDEO HALO
The plan: The stadium’s signature feature will be a retractable roof that moves in eight panels, creating an opening large enough to leave the full field uncovered. Ringing the inside of the roof opening, serving as a sort of video halo, will be a 60-foot-tall, 63,466-square-foot circular screen for replays and scores.
Architect’s view: “After we got the roof figured out … the last thing we wanted to do was plug that opening up with a big scoreboard. We took a look at Dallas and what (the Cowboys) have done with the center-hung scoreboard. But we thought, wouldn’t it be great if we could take the opening we’ve created and make a scoreboard-in-the-round so that you could see the game from a unique perspective no matter where you sit in the building?”
SUITES AND CLUBS
The plan: The stadium will have 196 suites, up from 173 in the Georgia Dome. Some will be closer than customary to the action: 16 on the field level behind the end zones and 20 on the lower-bowl concourse level at or near the 50-yard line. The rest will be, as usual, between the lower and upper bowls. Two club areas located below the lower-bowl premium seats will provide access to the sidelines.
Architect’s view: “The clubs will open out right at the 50-yard line to a standing-room area behind the benches. It’s very similar to what we did at MetLife Stadium for the Giants and Jets.”
WINDOW TO THE CITY
The plan: No seats will be placed in the middle and upper decks behind the east end zone, allowing for a wall of glass with a view of the city.
Architect’s view: “One of the features that (Falcons owner) Arthur Blank was very specific about … was the notion that if I’m sitting inside the building or looking at a camera shot, I want to see the beautiful downtown skyline.”
The plan: In front of the “window to the city,” bridges with glass rails will connect the north and south concourses on the upper and middle levels. Fans will be able to peer over the end zone or, if the game is going badly, turn toward the skyline.
Architect’s view: “I feel like the sky bridge will be one of the most exciting spots in the building to watch any event. The effect will be that you are hanging out over the east end zone.”
CONCOURSES THAT OPEN
The plan: Large glass panels along the concourses will be raised or lowered depending on the weather. When raised, fans will be able to flow into an outdoor space that will be off the main concourse but within the stadium’s secured, ticketed perimeter.
Architect’s view: “The idea is to create more of an open-air game-day feel, which was very big on the priority list of the Falcons.”
The plan: Traditional concessions stands will be replaced on the south upper concourse by a food-and-beverage bar extending from end zone to end zone. (There will be breaks in the bar so fans can get to their seats.) Above the bar, monitors will keep fans abreast of the game. An electronic marker will move up and down the wall, bar and concourse to simulate where the ball is on the field.
Architect’s view: “After talking to potential sponsors of this, they felt it would be most at home in the upper concourse.”
FANTASY FOOTBALL LOUNGES
The plan: This will be a theater-style space with monitors for tracking action around the NFL. It is an attempt to appeal to fans, particularly fantasy football players, who the league worries are increasingly content to watch games at home.
Architect’s view: “An interesting feature which has become very important to the NFL and, I think, to the game-day experience.”
The plan: The angular, eight-sided exterior, which contributed to the price hike, will consist largely of glass, a glass-like translucent material and metal panels. A lighting system will allow it to change colors to match specific events.
Architect’s view: “The building is actually a series of triangle segments representative of falcon wings in flight. It is a celebration of movement.”
SCREENING FOR SOCCER
The plan: Because the stadium is over-sized for the Major League Soccer team the Falcons plan to bring here, built-in fabric screens will be extended to block out the upper- and mid-level seating bowls for MLS games. That will reduce capacity from 71,041 for Falcons games to 31,085 for MLS.
Architect’s view: “What we are trying to do is give it a more intimate feel for the soccer fan.”
HOW MANY SEATS
According to the latest plans for the new Falcons stadium, the seating capacity for various events will be:
Falcons games 71,041
Super Bowl 75,173
SEC Championship game 75,173
College basketball Final Four 83,826
Concert with end stage 56,636
Major League Soccer games 31,085
Note: The increased capacity for Super Bowls and Final Fours would be achieved by installing temporary seating in several areas. The listed capacity for MLS would be with the upper and middle seating levels screened off. The Georgia Dome’s capacity for Falcons games is 71,228.
How the $1.2 billion cost of building the new Falcons stadium will be covered:
$800 million from the Falcons, minus whatever the team raises from personal seat license sales
$200 million from NFL funding
$200 million from proceeds of bonds backed by Atlanta’s hotel-motel tax
Note: Additional money from the hotel-motel tax will go toward offsetting the cost of operating the stadium from 2017-2050 and to interest payments on the bonds.