Retractable roof won’t be ready when Falcons stadium opens

Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s retractable roof won’t be ready for action when the Falcons open their new $1.5 billion home next month.

Construction delays have thrown “mechanization” of the roof behind schedule and will force the stadium to debut with the roof closed, Steve Cannon, CEO of Falcons parent company AMB Group, said Tuesday.

Cannon said the organization doesn’t know at this point when it might be able to hold events with the roof open, although he expressed confidence it will be at some point this year.

“We fully expect to have several events in the open-roof position this season with the Falcons and Atlanta United,” Cannon said.

But he said the roof will be closed when the stadium debuts with a Falcons-Arizona Cardinals exhibition game Aug. 26 and will remain closed beyond the Falcons’ first regular-season home game, Sept. 17 against the Green Bay Packers.

Although there long have been questions about whether the complex and costly roof would be fully operable when the stadium opens, Falcons officials previously had insisted they would have the ability to open and close the roof for events from the outset.

Cannon divulged otherwise at a Georgia World Congress Center Authority board meeting Tuesday.

“As we come into new information and new obstacles, we figure out what impact it’s going to have on schedule,” Cannon said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It became clear, based on the construction moves of the roof we have had, based on some of the delays we have had, that we didn’t have time to automate the roof.”

The one-of-a-kind retractable roof is designed to open or close in approximately 12 minutes with eight steel panels — called petals — moving in unison. The roof has been moved from open to closed, or vice versa, several times during the construction process and the latest such move was in progress Tuesday afternoon. However, the construction moves are quite different than what must happen to routinely open or close the roof for events and quickly adjust for weather changes.

The construction moves involve moving each 500-ton petal separately in a painstaking process that has required as long as two days to complete to allow for intricate tests and alignments.

Two more construction moves are planned by mid-August.

Cannon said contractors originally scheduled 40 days beyond the final construction move to complete the mechanization and automation that will allow the roof petals to move in unison. But that process now will require more than 40 days, he said, because the work will have to be sandwiched around a heavy schedule of September events in the stadium.

That timeline would indicate the roof won’t be fully operable until well into October at the earliest and perhaps later.

“That 40-day process was predicated on a building that was not yet open,” Cannon said. “Now we’re going to have to do that around a pretty crazy start-up schedule. … So I don’t have a date where I can say it will be fully automated.”

In the meantime, “We’d rather just have great events under a closed roof,” he said.

Eleven sports events are slated to be played in the stadium during its first month of operation, including two Falcons exhibition games, one Falcons regular-season game, six Atlanta United matches and two college football games.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium originally was scheduled to open March 1, but issues associated with steel work for the roof have been blamed for three delays — first to June 1, then to July 30, then to Aug. 26.

“Almost every one of our timelines over the course of the last year has been compressed,” Cannon said. “We have not been able to compress the mechanization of the roof. Essentially, we put that off. … Until we have full control where we can say we can open or close that roof quickly, we’re going to keep it closed.”

The Falcons have played their home games indoors in the Georgia Dome for the past 25 years and the prospect of outdoor football long has been one of the attractions of the new stadium for many fans.

Cannon insisted that opening the stadium without the option of opening the roof isn’t a big disappointment to the Falcons/Atlanta United organization.

“It’s a spectacular stadium,” he said. “We’re going to wow our fan base when the stadium opens. And when we have a mechanized roof, we’re going to wow them all over again.”

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