- By Tim Tucker The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Construction issues with the roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium will delay the opening of the Atlanta Falcons’ new home for the third time and will keep the Georgia Dome standing for a while longer.
Steve Cannon, CEO of Falcons parent company AMB Group, said Tuesday that the opening of the $1.5 billion downtown stadium will be pushed back from July 30, when an Atlanta United soccer match was to be played there, to Aug. 26, when a Falcons preseason game is scheduled to be played there.
Cannon also said demolition of the Georgia Dome has been put on hold “until we are 100 percent certain of achieving our certificate of occupancy” required for holding events in the the new stadium.
“This really does represent an insurance policy,” he said. “We do not expect to use the Georgia Dome whatsoever.”
But for now, the 25-year-old Dome, which was officially closed in March, will remain in place in case it is needed for football games in late August and beyond.
The Dome’s replacement originally was scheduled to open March 1. That previously was pushed back to June 1 and then to July 30, both times because of issues associated with the complicated retractable roof.
Cannon said the latest delay is driven by “steel work that has taken longer than we anticipated” in the roof and an updated analysis of the construction timeline from this point forward.
“When some things shift, it has an impact on the overall timeline and re-sequencing of the work,” he said.
The roof — the first of its kind — consists of eight operable petals, each installed in four pieces. It is designed to open or close in about eight minutes with what architects have described as a “camera lens-like” effect. A 58-foot-tall, halo-shaped video board is to hang from the circumference of the roof opening, encircling the field.
Cannon expects the roof, which he said contains 27,000 tons of steel, to be operable when the stadium opens.
“We have a complex design, we have a complex building, but there has never been any concern about the operability of the roof,” he said. “This is a timeline challenge and nothing else.”
But Cannon acknowledged that the roof petals required some extra work to make them fit.
“You install a shim that closes a gap or addresses a gap,” he said. “So, yes, there was a shimming process that took place, normal seal work on a project of this size and this complexity. We have completed all of that work. … And now we’re moving on.”
He said the roof petals are 75 percent installed and that the plan for late Tuesday or Wednesday was to move them to the complete open position and begin installing the “tips” of the petals.
Tommy Holder, CEO of Holder Construction and managing member of the Holder Hunt Russell Moody joint venture that is building the stadium, addressed the status of the project in a statement Tuesday.
“Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a spectacular building the people of Atlanta are going to be very proud of for a long time,” Holder said. “Any one-of-a-kind original project like this inevitably sees schedule adjustments along the way.
“The complexity of the design has taken longer than planned for a variety of reasons, but there is not a concern about the roof operating as designed once construction is complete. Work continues around the clock to deliver the building as soon as possible, and great progress is being made every day.”
The issue of when to demolish the Georgia Dome will be revisited in a couple of months.
“We’re very confident that in June we’ll have that 100 percent certainty about the roof, the petal alignment and all of that,” Cannon said.
If so, the process of preparing the Dome for demolition would resume, he said. Already, the artificial turf has been removed, the offices vacated and a security fence erected. But other pre-demolition work, such as removal of the seats, has been halted, and a representative for the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which operated the Dome, said recently that the building could be utilized if necessary.
The Dome was slated for implosion in July, but that date has been scrapped and no new one set.
A new implosion date will depend on when “de-commissioning” of the building resumes and on the Falcons’ schedule, Cannon said.
The plan now calls for Mercedes-Benz Stadium to open with Falcons preseason games vs. Arizona on Aug. 26 (a Saturday) and vs. Jacksonville on Aug. 31 (a Thursday). If the plan holds, the Aug. 26 game would be the first public event in the stadium.
The Falcons’ regular-season home schedule will be announced by the NFL on Thursday, along with the rest of the league’s 2017 schedule.
Two Chick-fil-A Kickoff college-football games on Labor Day weekend — Alabama vs. Florida State on Sept. 2 and Georgia Tech vs. Tennessee on Sept. 4 — remain scheduled for Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Under the revised schedule, Atlanta United’s match previously scheduled for July 30 in the new stadium will instead be played at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Stadium on July 29. Two Atlanta United matches that had been scheduled for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in August will be rescheduled by MLS for later dates in the new stadium, Cannon said.
The stadium also was named the site of the College Football Playoff national championship game in January, the Super Bowl in February 2019 and the college basketball Final Four in April 2020.
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