By Maria Saporta and Amy Wenk
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank plans to hire the world’s top architects to construct a new $1 billion stadium for the Falcons.
On Monday, Blank shared with Atlanta Business Chronicle his optimism for the project, which that day passed its first benchmark with the approval of the business terms for the new stadium. While it’s a non-binding agreement, it sets the framework for a deal to come together.
A request for qualifications to pick an architect was sent out Monday afternoon, said Rich McKay, president and CEO of the Falcons. It will take about 60 days to select an architect, he said. Click here to see a copy of the bid.
“We will spend a lot of time in the design phase talking to the best architects in the world,” Blank said. “We will be working closely with the state.”
Blank bought the Falcons in late 2001 for approximately $545 million. At the time, he knew the Georgia Dome wouldn’t be a long-term solution for the team.
“We understood back in 2001, we knew it wasn’t going to be a solution for 30 years,” Blank said. “We have worked closely with the Congress Center since 2001 to improve the relationship with the fans for our benefit and for their benefit.”
That includes investing in a $52 million renovation of the Georgia Dome in 2006. The Falcons put forth $36 million and the GWCC put in $16 million.
Discussions began on a new stadium about three years ago. Blank said he has been focused on keeping the stadium in downtown Atlanta. Questions still linger about where the new stadium will be located. Two sites are under consideration.
The Falcons would operate and maintain a new stadium to give the team more control over the revenue it generates. Today, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) operates and maintains the Georgia Dome.
“We are operating the facility for the benefit of the city, the region and the state,” Blank said. “What it’s going to look like, that will dictate a large part of success or failure. We think we understand a lot about fans and guests and entertainment.”
A new stadium could entice big-name events, such as the Super Bowl. It might also bring new sports leagues to the city, such as a professional soccer league. The stadium will be built to accommodate specifications set forth by the Major Soccer League (MLS) and the more stringent Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Blank hopes the stadium one day could host the World Cup.
“No guarantee we will get any of those without a new stadium,” Blank said. “We think it solves our long-term problems and solves the city and the state’s competitive position. We will compete aggressively on a nationwide basis.”
The next big hurdle will come in spring when the GWCCA goes before the Georgia General Assembly to increase its bonding capacity by $100 million for the project. Without approval from the state legislature, the deal could fall apart.
But, Blank and the Falcons seem optimistic that won’t happen.
“In 2010, there was a complete vetting of the bed tax and that passed,” Blank said. “There was an opportunity for people to speak on the issue. I’m optimistic the state and the Congress Center will be able to carry it forward in the legislature.”
Rich McKay, president and CEO of the Falcons, said he feels good about the ongoing discussions at the state level. “The case is a good case.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed says he supports the project, especially since it will likely improve the public infrastructure.
“I believe it’s the right thing for us to do,” Reed said after a Dec. 10 meeting. That’s because the convention business represents an $11 billion industry for the city and it’s important to have best in class facilities.
“I think the funding problem will be solved,” Reed said. “I don’t know how. There will be times it will be difficult, but I think the problem will be solved before legislature leaves.”