Mercedes-Benz Stadium officials have watched the weather forecast closely in recent days, hoping the stadium’s retractable roof could be open for Sunday’s Atlanta United match.
The forecast hasn’t cooperated, calling for a rainy weekend, and as of Friday it appeared highly likely the roof will remain closed Sunday.
But Steve Cannon, CEO of Falcons and Atlanta United parent company AMB Group, provided an upbeat update on the longer-term status of the problematic roof, predicting it will operate as designed by “early summer.”
“We’re getting close,” Cannon said. “I can see the finish line on this one, and it can’t come soon enough.”
Work reintensified a couple of months ago on the roof, which has been open for only two events in the stadium’s 6-1/2 months of operation because it is not yet fully automated. The work has reached a stage where the construction team needs to open the roof for a day to install “load-balancing” gauges that will be used to ensure future roof moves are within design capacity, Cannon said. So the thought occurred to stadium and team officials that the need to open the roof for construction purposes could conveniently coincide with Atlanta United’s home opener.
Alas, the weather forecast intervened.
“If the weather says no, then we’ll wait for the weather to clear and open it as a construction move,” Cannon said.
He described the work still to be done on the roof as primarily “final balancing” followed by “final automation.” As that work is done, there will be a five-week stretch in which the roof must remain closed and a 10-day stretch in which it will remain open, he said.
“Early summer is when it’s going to be a push-button (operation), meaning push the button and 11 minutes later it’s open,” Cannon said.
For now, moves of the roof take much longer and require more advance planning.
“I want the roof opening to be part of the show,” Cannon said.
He noted that the NFL requires the roof to be in its game configuration 90 minutes before kickoff, before most fans are in their seats, but that MLS has no such mandate, meaning that after it is automated the roof could be opened shortly before soccer matches with fans watching the spectacle.
“I want this roof to be not just this static thing that is either in the open or closed position when you enter the building,” Cannon said. “It is an iconic feature that is unique in the world, and it is in our city, in our building, and how cool would it be for (opening it) to become part of the show?”
Waterproofing work also is continuing on the roof, which has leaked at times, including during pregame warm-ups for the college football national championship game Jan. 8.
“We had so many workers working so hard to sprint to get ready for (the stadium’s opening in August) that there was some flashing, some materials, some caulking, some overlaps that weren’t perfect,” Cannon said. “Those connections are being redone, re-caulked, re-flashed and readdressed, and now every rain is another shakeout opportunity for us to chase if there’s another leak.
“We’ve managed to take what was a larger number of leaks and shrunk it down to a very, very small number. And that work will continue until we’ve got it done.”
This weekend’s weather could again test the waterproofing.
Cannon also addressed the stadium’s egress issues, which have drawn complaints at some events.
He said extensive review of stadium video revealed two “pinch points,” both on the 100-level concourse, causing the congestion as fans leave the stadium: one near the display of Georgia high school football helmets and another near the Terrapin Bar.
He said a series of “big and small” changes have been made, including installing additional doors on the east end, removing a storage closet near the helmet display to add concourse width, using TV monitors to direct departing fans and taking two escalators out of service after events to avoid delivering more fans into the congestion at the pinch points.
“To put egress topics in context, 1.8 million people have attended 30-plus events, and we had a No. 1 ranking (in an NFL fan survey) in safety and security,” Cannon said.
AMB Group has selected an outside consultant, which it hasn’t named publicly, to evaluate the stadium’s egress issue. The consultant will “look at everything that has been done and look at ways to make additional improvements,” Cannon said.