By Maria Saporta
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank is pleased with the recent progress for the new stadium development and the work that his foundation will be doing in the community.
“We are in a really good place,” Blank said in a brief conversation at the Four Pillar Award dinner in honor of Atlanta architect and developer John Portman on Thursday night. “We are really excited about the south site. It feels good to get the site solidified.”
Then looking to his dinner table neighbor Tommy Holder, one of the contractors of the new stadium project, Blank said with a smile: “We can finally put him to work. He’s been sitting on his (bottom).”
Blank, in his first press interview about the new $1 billion, retractable-roof stadium since an official decision was made to build the project on the south site, said the official ground-breaking likely will be during the week of March 31, 2014.
In the meantime, the architects and the engineers will be working on the final design and construction documents for the project. The state of Georgia also needs to acquire a few pieces of property — either through negotiations or condemnation.
Blank did admit that it had taken longer than he would have liked to get to this point. The Falcons had set a deadline of August 1 to decide on whether to build on the south site.
But two historic black churches — Friendship Baptist Church and Mount Vernon Baptist Church — first had to agree to sell their property so the stadium could be located on the site south of the existing Georgia Dome. The agreement with both churches wasn’t reached until September 22.
“Patience is not my virtue, but we had to be patient with the process,” Blank said. “We wanted to be respectful of the churches. We were open to either the north or the south site.”
But Blank said the south site was preferable because it will be located between two MARTA stations. “Having public transportation right there is important,” Blank said. “It’s important to our fans.”
Now Blank he and his organization will be turning much of their focus towards the community. The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation already has pledged to donate $15 million towards community improvement efforts. It also is conducting a national search for someone to head its west side community development initiatives.
“We are working hard on the community aspects of it,” Blank said. “In many ways, the community work is going to be harder than building the stadium.”
Blank went on to say that foundation leaders have “charged to the search firm that we want to hire one of the top five people in the United States.”
The foundation has received several hundred applications for the well-paying position. “The quality of the individuals is just incredible,” Blank said, adding that the plan to have someone on board by the first of the year.