The Georgia Dome’s long goodbye intensifies Sunday, when the Falcons play their final game in the building against the Green Bay Packers for a berth in the Super Bowl.
Five public events remain on the Dome’s schedule after the NFC Championship game, wrapping up with two Monster Jam truck shows in early March. Then the building will close for good and be prepared for demolition.
Dome executives last year set an internal theme of “going out on top,” referring to operations and customer service at the 25-year-old facility. As it turned out, the theme extended to the playing field.
“Our goal has always been for the Dome to go out on top, and we will close our football chapter having hosted two of the biggest games ever held in Atlanta, with the College Football Playoff semifinal (on Dec. 31) and now the NFC Championship game,” said Frank Poe, executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which operates the Dome.
“The only thing that could top it off would be a win on Sunday and going on to the Super Bowl,” said Kevin Duvall, the GWCCA’s chief operating officer. “You couldn’t write a better script.”
Built at a cost of $214 million, the state-owned Georgia Dome opened in 1992 and has hosted, by Dome spokesman Jason Kirksey’s count, 1,456 events attended by 37.6 million people. The events include two Super Bowls, three NCAA men’s basketball Final Fours, Olympic basketball and gymnastics, 199 regular-season Falcons games, seven Falcons playoff games (counting Sunday’s) and 152 college football games.
Rising next door to the Dome, 80 feet away, is its successor: the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, slated to open in the summer with an eight-petal retractable roof and a 58-foot-tall video board encircling the field.
The SEC said goodbye to the Dome at its 23rd consecutive football championship game there last month. The Peach Bowl said goodbye with a national semifinal on New Year’s Eve. The Falcons thought they might be saying goodbye at their playoff game against Seattle — until Green Bay’s win over Dallas the next day brought the NFC title game to Atlanta for just the second time.
The Packers’ win drew this immediate reaction from the Georgia Dome’s official Twitter account: “We planned a lot of ways to send the Dome out the right way, but sometimes things just take care of themselves.”
The Dome’s remaining events after the Falcons-Packers game are the Honda Battle of the Bands on Jan. 28, Winter Jam tour of Christian music on Feb. 4, Supercross motorcycle racing on Feb. 25 and the back-to-back Monster Jam shows on March 4-5.
Those five events are expected to bring another 250,000 visitors to the building, according to Poe.
The ending comes with a mix of nostalgia and emotion for the Dome’s staff.
“You run the range of emotions — excited, sentimental, sad,” said Duvall, in his 15th year with the GWCCA and Dome. “I was taking selfies with everybody all day long (at the Falcons-Seahawks game) just to reflect on it.
“I’m so thankful that things turned out so that we have this one final game.”
A target schedule for Georgia Dome demolition, prepared last year and obtained through an open-records request, calls for salvage operations to begin in March, utilities to be disconnected in April, interior demolition and haul-out to begin in late May and implosion to occur around the start of August.
The Falcons currently are fine-tuning that schedule for approval from the GWCCA, which expects the implosion to occur a bit earlier in light of the recent announcement that Mercedes-Benz Stadium will open with an Atlanta United soccer match July 30.
“I think (implosion) is going to be mid-summer,” Duvall said. “I don’t think it’ll slip to August.”
Beginning in March, the GWCCA will remove all items from the Dome that it wants to use elsewhere on its campus. The seats will be available for sale to the public in connected sets of two for $599.
The cost of demolishing the Dome is included in Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s construction budget. Net proceeds from selling equipment and materials salvaged from the Dome will offset that budget.
After demolition, most of the site will be turned into green space, a grass parking lot and a tailgating area. The plan is for community activities and events to be held in the green space throughout the year. A 600-car parking garage and a hotel also are planned for the Dome site.
But first things first: one last football game, one of the biggest in Georgia Dome history.
“It just kind of symbolizes our whole theme of going out on top,” Duvall said.