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Kempner: A crushing end to the Georgia Dome

Goodnight, sweet prince. And flights of monster trucks sing thee to thy rest! (Shakespeare, 2017)

The Georgia Dome — the sports palace that we spent lots of money building and now are throwing away like a week-old stadium pretzel — hosted its last performance Sunday night.

At times I was a little short of breath. I’d like to say it’s because we were all a little choked up with sentiment. But actually, it was all the dirt in the air.

We built the Dome in all its earlier pinkish hues with visions of the 1996 Olympics, Atlanta Falcons games and Super Bowls in mind. But it’s final act was Monster Jam, with giant-wheeled, car-crushing, head-rattling monster trucks, including, appropriately for this night, the most famous one: Grave Digger.

Monday the vultures begin picking over the carcass, with some pieces (like seats) available to be purchased by the general public. By midsummer, maybe, the Dome will be blown into dust. Its site will become a parking lot and some green space.

I had intended to be the last paying customer out the door, but a dang press deadline got in the way.

So instead, I filed out along with everybody else. Beside me for part of the trudge was Matt Mitcham, a gray-haired Georgia Bulldawg, by his hat, with a look that I took to be joy.

The joy seemed to be tied to his young grandson, who was there with him. Mitcham has been coming to the Dome for decades. (It opened in 1992.) That’s a lot of football games and events like the Monster Jam, in which trucks become acrobats. (About 250 truck loads of dirt were brought in for Saturday and Sunday’s last hoorah at the Dome.)

“I brought my son to one of these” when he was a child, Mitcham told me. “Now, I brought my grandson.”

Nice, right?

Except he could do without the Dome being torn down.

“I don’t understand why,” Mitcham said. “We’re going to miss it.”

Some serious bank

The new Mercedes-Benz Stadium going up 80 feet from the Dome will be wonderful, I’m sure. Arthur Blank is putting some serious bank into it (along with some serious public bank).

The agreement on the new stadium gives the Falcons a lot more control, more risk and, most importantly, a chance to pocket a lot more money from the venue.

Blank, a Home Depot co-founder, helped birth a multi-billion-dollar business and a horde of stores; he can handle a stadium.

“It is going to be awesome,” said Zack Bell, who with his wife and son had front row seats at Monster Jam.

But he and virtually everyone else I spoke with pointed out that it’s hard to find anything wrong with the Georgia Dome.

Getting rid of it seems like a massive waste.

That’s the sentiment I heard from virtually all the moms and dads I spoke with who brought their kids to the truck circus Sunday. As much as our society is known for throwing away stuff, tossing a stadium that still was fantastic enough to bring in top events seems nutty.

Kevin Duvall, the chief operating officer of the Georgia World Congress Center which controls the Dome, has heard this all before, I’m sure.

He recounted for me how the GWCC talked about upgrading the Dome and keeping the Falcons in it. The team didn’t bite. The GWCC had a consultant look into the feasibility of having a new open-air stadium for the Falcons and keeping a beefed-up Dome for essentially everything else.

But “the amount of money to keep this building up to speed and competitive with the market was going to be too much to achieve with a two-stadium option,” he said.

A ‘great’ Dome

That despite the fact that he called the Dome “great.” He told me he doesn’t plan to buy any Dome keepsakes, such as a pair of seats.

“There is some sentiment in this building. It helped bring me to Atlanta,” Duvall said. “But there is more sentiment with the people we have than just the glass and the bricks.”

Thousands of contractors and part-time workers might make the short jump to the new stadium when it opens later this spring. So will more than half of the Dome’s 100 or so full-time employees.

Ken Jefferson, who has been the Dome’s events services manager from the beginning, told me he won’t be making the switch. He told me about how staff was focused on keeping up painting and repairs until the very last.

“It’s a very viable building. There’s nothing wrong with it,” he said. As for the new stadium, “they’ve got to find a way to do it better. We’ve set the bar high.”

It’s hard to please a crowd. On Sunday night, the driver of Grave Digger busted the vehicle on an early run.

The driver battled back on a later, high-flying run, leaving trashed bits of his vehicle in the dirt.

It was just enough. Grave Digger won the night’s top competition and the chance to send the Dome crowd out cheering. Appropriately enough.

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