By Maria Saporta and Amy Wenk
A more detailed conceptual design for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium was approved Monday by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s Stadium Development Committee.
The revised conceptual design by 360 Architecture, which expands upon the proposed “Pantheon” concept presented in April, will be presented to the GWCCA’s board for approval on Tuesday.
Bill Johnson, 360’s senior principal, showed new sketches of the design and how it would sit on the “south site” adjacent to the Georgia Dome, which will be demolished once the new $1 billion stadium opens in 2017.
Johnson said he wanted the stadium placed on the site to create a “window on the world” with a view of Atlanta so everyone inside the stadium could see the skyline and know what city they were in.
Another challenge — was there a way to make the opening of the retractable roof more open? Since April, Johnson said the architectural team has been working to refine the design. It has come up with a way to make the opening larger and to create a window opening towards the city and its taller buildings.
“We also wanted to take a hard look about placement on the site and realignment of Martin Luther King as the Southern boundary,” Johnson said. Among the questions that had to be answered were whether the stadium would fit on the site, whether there was enough space to maneuver around the building and the edges of the property, and would they be able to create some public outdoor spaces.
Johnson said that the good news is that all of those issues were doable.
Another major challenge was to make sure the building would connect well with the surrounding neighborhoods, especially Vine City. The question for Johnson was “how do we create a transparency to this building and how it relates to Vine City,” Johnson said.
The solution will be to use a membrane that has “a glass-like quality” that can be transparent or opaque depending on the weather and the sun.
The goal was to have “an open building that closes rather than a closed building that opens,” said Johnson, who showed images of a roof that had edges that looked like a spider web.
The roof will still open with sections along tracks, even though the sections might now be bigger to accomodate a larger opening, but Johnson said the building will have the flexibility to be as open or closed as desired. It is still expected that it will take less than 10 minutes to go from a fully closed to a fully opened stadium.
The area around the stadium will be designed like a promenade, which Johnson said would be another amenity for the community. Also, once the Georgia Dome is demolished, that space will be turned into an outdoor lawn of grass that will be used for tailgating during game days but as a common space for outdoor events on other days.
Although all the conceptual designs for the new stadium showed it being on the south site, Johnson said that it would be possible to relocate the design to the “north site,” which is about a half-mile away along Northside Drive.
The City of Atlanta and GWCCA currently are in negotiations with two black churches — Friendship Baptist Church and Mount Vernon Baptist Church — that would have to be moved in order for the stadium to be built on the south site. Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank has said that if the churches are not willing to sell, they certainly would not be forced to move. Instead, the Falcons build the stadium on the north site.
Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons, said Monday that he understands that “progress is being made” in the negotiations with the black churches.
“I think we are all sensitive to the issue,” McKay said. “We have proceeded with the thought that the south site could become a reality knowing that it might not.”
But McKay said the overall concept of the Pantheon design could work on the north site, but there would be schematic differences. “I’ve grown fond of both sites,” said McKay, who originally favored the north site.
Johnson also shared the latest details of the size of the proposed stadium. It will be a total of 1.8 million square feet that will seat about 70,000 people. There will be 180 suites compared to the Georgia Dome’s 162 suites. It also will have about 7,500 club seats compared to the Georgia Dome’s 5,174 club seats.
The GWCCA Stadium Development Committee also voted to approve the construction firms of Hunt and Holder as the lead general contractors to build the new stadium.
In the last action, the GWCCA staff has selected the firm of Heery International to serve as the “owner’s representative” to supervise the construction of the project. The GWCCA board will vote on that selection at its July board meeting.