Seats that would vibrate with each hard hit on the field didn’t make the Falcons’ final cut. But a 100-yard-long bar and a fantasy football lounge did make it, along with a roof that is supposed to open and close in about seven minutes.
The Falcons this week received complete design drawings from their architects for the team’s new downtown stadium, a milestone in the transition from the planning to building phases of the project.
The Braves, meanwhile, said their architects continue to refine the design and amenities of the team’s new Cobb County stadium, with particular emphasis on the connection between the ballpark and an adjacent entertainment complex.
Both stadiums are scheduled to open in the spring of 2017, if all goes as planned. Both teams vow the venues will significantly change the fan experience, albeit in different ways.
The Falcons and Kansas City-based 360 Architecture intentionally set out to design a multipurpose stadium unlike any other, starting with an angular exterior that can change colors and a 63,000-square-foot oval video board incorporated into the opening of the retractable roof.
“We told the architects from the beginning that if you design a building that somebody can walk around and say, ‘Boy, this reminds me of …,’ then you have failed in your object,” Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay said.
The Braves, on the other hand, have described their objective as a stadium that is innovative, yet within the norm of what people expect a baseball park to look like. The novelty is in what they plan just outside the ballpark gates.
“The central differentiating factor compared to Turner Field or any stadium is that we are building an overall experience — a community — connected to our ballpark,” said Braves executive vice president of sales and marketing Derek Schiller, referring to the planned complex of shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, offices and residences.
As the designs advance, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked executives from both teams to discuss some of the major ways in which the stadiums are intended to change the fan experience.
Falcons: ‘Changing the game’
Let’s start at the top of the Falcons’ stadium. The retractable roof and oval video board, team officials believe, will set the tone for the experience.
The roof of the $1.2 billion stadium will consist of eight triangular panels that open and close. The video board will ring the inside of the roof opening.
To settle on the size of the opening and video board, Falcons owner Arthur Blank and other team executives gathered in the Georgia Dome and watched as curtains were hung from the roof, simulating different options. They decided on a 60-feet-tall board that will extend from 10-yard line to 10-yard line on both sides of the field, curving around the end zones to complete the oval.
The Falcons insist they will play often with the roof open, putting Atlantans outdoors for NFL games for the first time since 1991.
Plans call for weather-proofing the entire seating bowl and installing drains on the field, steps the Falcons said will give them more latitude to open the roof than other teams who close theirs if there’s even a slight chance of rain.
“This is going to be an outdoor building that can be climatized, as opposed to a (traditional) retractable-roof stadium,” McKay said. “I think that most basic design decision changes the fan experience, from when they first approach the stadium to everything they experience in it.”
When the roof is open, massive glass doors surrounding the lower concourse will slide open, intended to create air flow through the building. At two entrances, the security checkpoints will be pushed out from the building, enabling the doors to open onto outdoor patios within the ticketed area.
The design of the stadium, which also will be home to a Major League Soccer expansion team and other marquee events, reflects a trend in recently built sports venues: lots of gathering spaces for fans who don’t want to spend several hours in their seats.
Such spaces will include four clubs in premium seating areas, a 100-yard-long food-and-beverage bar in an upper-level concourse, a high-tech lounge where fans can keep up with their fantasy football teams, and two bridges overlooking an end zone in front of a wall of skyline-view windows.
“One of the things we focused on was designing communal spaces and amenities on all levels,” said Jim Smith, the Falcons’ chief marketing and revenue officer. “That is one of the key differences from the Georgia Dome today.”
The design goal, McKay said, “was to make sure that we’re not just moving the needle but that we’re changing the game.” There were limits, however. Early on, the architects presented the idea of having some of the 71,000 seats vibrate when a hard hit is delivered on the field.
“We looked at the concept,” McKay said, shaking his head. “Couldn’t do it.”
Braves: ‘Continuing to refine’
The Braves hope the mixed-use complex planned adjacent to their Cobb stadium will redefine baseball fans’ experience by drawing them to games early and keeping them late.
Team officials and their architect, Kansas City-based Populous, have stressed the connection between the development and the $622 million ballpark. A large water feature will be part of that intersection, as will bars and restaurants.
“With the mixed-use development as well as a world-class brand-new baseball stadium, it’ll be a far better environment for our fans for the next 30 years,” Schiller said.
The Braves are not as far into the stadium design process as the Falcons, who started earlier. Although the stadiums are scheduled to open within weeks of one another, the Braves said theirs will require less time to build because it will be about 1.1 million square feet compared with the Falcons’ 1.8 million square feet.
“We have determined several key elements of the ballpark, including the basic seating layouts, but we are continuing to refine the overall look, feel and amenities,” Schiller said. “We have made significant progress on the design and are on schedule.”
The plans for the seating bowl are aimed at putting fans closer to the action — not necessarily by reducing the amount of foul territory, Schiller said, but with cantilever designs that push the middle and upper bowls toward the field. The seating capacity will be about 41,500, down from Turner Field’s rarely filled 50,000.
Plans show a 90-feet-wide canopy horseshoeing around the stadium’s top, triple the size of the overhang at The Ted, to provide some protection from sun or rain. The added cost of a retractable roof wasn’t seriously considered.
The Braves’ design embraces the trend toward more areas for fans to congregate away from their seats. The current thinking, Schiller said, is to scatter six to nine clubs throughout the stadium, attaching them to seating sections at different price points. Up to 10 percent of the total seats will be “premium,” meaning they will come with an amenity, such as a club, a table top or food and beverage.
Turner Field’s Braves Chop House restaurant has an expanded place in the plans. It will be three or four levels, Schiller said, with views of both the field and the entertainment complex.
The dimensions of the video board haven’t been determined, but likely will be similar to Turner Field’s, Schiller said.
On a recent panel discussion, Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk was asked if his team’s new stadium would be as cutting-edge as the Falcons’. “We have a bunch of traditional baseball people inside our organization,” McGuirk replied. “It is going to look like a baseball stadium; there is no question about that. From there, though, we will try and provide everything that possibly hasn’t been provided in the past.”
TALE OF TWO STADIUMS
Comparing design plans for the Braves’ and Falcons’ new stadiums, both of which will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds:
Category / Braves / Falcons
Seating capacity / 41,500 / 71,000
Playing surface / Natural grass / Artificial turf
Top of building / Open air / Retractable roof
Square footage / 1.1 million / 1.8 million
Suites / 40-45 / 187
Premium seats / Approx. 4,000 / 7,500
Project budget / $622 million / $1.2 billion
Note: Premium seats refer to club seats in Falcons stadium and to seats with any added amenity (such as club access, table top, food and beverage) in Braves stadium. Budget listed for Braves stadium doesn’t include an additional $50 million the team could invest at its discretion.