By Amy Wenk and Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, January 4, 2013
Ten architecture firms are vying to become the lead designer of a new $1 billion stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.
It’s a lucrative project for an industry that’s seen tough years since the Great Recession. Design fees could command 6 percent to 11 percent of the approximately $700 million construction budget, said Richard Sawyer, stadium procurement director.
“I think the industry is generally hungry for work,” Sawyer said.
The list of potential architects comes about three weeks after the Falcons and Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) agreed to the terms of a business deal to build a new retractable roof stadium.
They still are finalizing a legally binding Memorandum of Understanding, which should come by the end of January.
The project has additional hurdles to jump, including picking one of two proposed sites for the stadium, as well as asking the Georgia legislature for additional bonding capacity to finance its construction.
The new stadium could be up to 1.8 million square feet, with seating for up to 80,000 fans, according to the request for qualifications sent to the architecture firms. It would be built to meet the standards of the NFL, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Major League Soccer and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
“Our vision is that the new stadium would be an iconic asset for the city and state — a building that reflects our culture and history, and one that also complements and enhances the downtown skyline and tourist attractions,” Rich McKay, Falcons president and CEO, said in a statement.
Frank Poe, executive director of the GWCCA, said he was pleased with the response from the architecture firms. “This is a big project, and the level of interest is pretty high.”
A final decision on a lead architect should come in February or March.
Among those in the running are Kansas City, Mo.-based sports and entertainment architecture firm Populous, which has one of the largest stadium portfolios on the list. Populous already has been involved with the new Falcons project, conducting feasibility studies since 2010.
“I would assume they would have the inside track,” said Benjamin Flowers, associate professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Architecture, who is writing a book on stadiums. “They certainly have the most experience with projects of this scale.”
Populous has been the architect on about a dozen new NFL stadiums and renovations. Among those are Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers; FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins; and Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots.
Populous also designed a replacement for Wembley Stadium, one of the most famous sporting and entertainment venues in Britain. It also worked on the Olympic Stadium for the London 2012 Games, as well as Atlanta’s Philips Arena.
Another candidate is HKS Sports & Entertainment Group, a Dallas-based firm with a large office in Atlanta.
HKS has designed two of the most recent NFL stadiums: Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, and Cowboys Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. Both feature retractable roofs — a key design element of the proposed new Falcons stadium.
HKS also recently was selected to design the new home of the Minnesota Vikings.
Another contender is Atlanta-based tvsdesign, which has teamed up with Atlanta-based Heery International Inc. and global firm Gensler to bid on the project.
“That’s a great team,” said Janice Wittschiebe, principal at Atlanta-based architecture firm Richard Wittschiebe Hand.
Among its portfolio, tvs designed the Georgia World Congress Center and the Music City Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn.
In joint ventures with others, Heery was the architect on the Georgia Dome, as well as Turner Field. It’s also worked on several collegiate facilities, including the softball stadium at The University of Georgia.
Other firms under consideration are:
RGC Stadium Design
An eight-person committee — made up of four Falcons representatives and four representatives from the GWCCA — will rank the firms. Three to five finalists should be picked in the next few weeks.
A decision on a lead architect could come around mid-February, Sawyer said. Fee negotiations will take place after that.
“The law requires that we don’t look at price as a factor,” Sawyer said. “You negotiate a fee with the firm deemed the most qualified.”
John Bencich, the 2012 president of the Atlanta chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said the stadium should be more than just a sports facility.
“It would be a missed opportunity for Atlanta if we don’t think about the bigger picture,” Bencich said. “There’s a tremendous fear on my part that we are going to get another pretty stadium, and then 20 to 30 years from now having to start all over again. If we want to change a part of town and encourage a vibrant downtown, we might want to do things a little differently.”
Bencich, who is a founder of the Atlanta Design Center — which aims to promote good design in the region — said it would be wonderful if the Falcons would bring in community stakeholders to be part of the design process.
“If it could be more nuanced to incorporate the connective tissue around the stadium, that would be a really positive development,” he said.
Industry insiders say possible contractors for the project could include Manhattan Construction, which built the new Dallas Cowboys stadium. Other possibilities include Skanska, which built Gillette Stadium, MetLife Stadium and Philips Arena; and The Beck Group.