By Maria Saporta
Friday, November 4, 2011
The Atlanta Falcons and Georgia World Congress Center will soon send out a request for proposals to potential designers of a new football stadium.
Falcons and GWCC officials expect to issue the RFP by the end of November for national and international architects to provide conceptual designs for a new open-air football stadium. The new stadium would be located north of the Falcons existing home — the Georgia Dome — at the intersection of Northside Drive and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard.
“It gives us an opportunity to look at some conceptual designs for the stadium and to get cost estimates,” said Rich McKay, Falcons president and CEO. “Our hope is that it would be issued in the next 30 days.”
McKay said the RFP is an important next step in the future development of a new stadium. It follows a master plan that was done by Kansas City, Mo.-based Populous, which was released last February.
“If you look at what Populous did, it was at the 40,000-foot level,” said Frank Poe, GWCC executive director. “This will take it to the 25,000-foot level.”
The Populous report estimated a new stadium would cost about $700 million. But to have a more accurate assessment of what it would cost, McKay said a conceptual design is needed. An independent third party likely will break down the costs once a conceptual design has been selected.
“There are a lot of qualified architects, and there are a lot of stadiums that have been designed in the last 10 years that have made great advancements from a design and sustainability standpoint,” McKay said.
Having a conceptual design and a more accurate cost estimate is critical in the ongoing negotiations between the Falcons and the GWCC to develop a business agreement for financing the new football stadium.
“We are at the point where this piece of information is important to understand whether a financial deal can be done,” Poe said. “You have got to look at the cost, the design and what the financial plan would look like.”
The Falcons are committed to building a new outdoor stadium rather than remaining in the Georgia Dome. But until a financial agreement is reached between the team and the state on how to pay for a new stadium, the option to remain in a renovated Georgia Dome is still on the table — which would be a far less expensive alternative.
“We are focused on trying to make a business deal on a new stadium,” McKay said. “We look at it as a long-term solution rather than a short-term solution, which is what a renovation would be.”
If a new stadium is built, the state would try to make sure there would be enough revenue to keep the Georgia Dome open as an amenity to the convention center for large gatherings, other sporting events and concerts.
The state also would seek to be made whole in other ways. As currently envisioned, the new stadium would be built on the 21-acre truck marshaling yard that is necessary to serve one of the country’s largest convention centers. (The stadium also would need the property that is now the 7-acre yellow parking lot.)
Either the marshaling yard would need to be relocated to a new site or planners would need to figure out a way to design the stadium in such a way that it could co-exist with the current truck marshaling yard. Either option would add a cost to the development of a new stadium.
“It is a functional part of the center,” Poe said of the truck marshaling yard. “It is a critical element of what we do. It’s an item that will be included [as part of a development plan].”
McKay and Poe said the two parties are still working on what would be included as part of the RFP, and it has not yet been decided whether the state or the Falcons would actually issue the request for proposals. If the GWCC issues the RFP, the process would then need to follow state procurement guidelines.
In determining which firm would be selected, McKay and Poe said several factors would be considered, such as the proposed design and the firm’s professional experience. But McKay said the process probably would not turn into a full-scale design competition, such as was used in selecting the architectural team for the proposed National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Still, McKay said that the architect selected through the RFP process likely would be commissioned to do the actual final design of the stadium. The final design, however, could end up being different from the conceptual design that comes out of the RFP process.
“Our intent going in is that they would be the one ultimately to design the stadium, pending the ability to work out a financial arrangement between the Congress Center and the Falcons,” McKay said.
Once the RFP is issued, then architectural firms likely would have a couple of months to turn in their conceptual designs. Then the Falcons and GWCC officials would conduct a formal evaluation of the various proposals. McKay said they likely would make a decision on the firm and the conceptual design by next spring.
But until a financial agreement is reached, the actual timeline to build a new stadium is unknown.
The Falcons have to play in the Georgia Dome until the bonds that were issued to build the facility are paid off. The 30-year bonds are scheduled to be repaid by 2020, but could be paid back earlier — maybe 2017. The bonds are being repaid through hotel-motel taxes collected in the city of Atlanta.
The Falcons would like to be able to move to a new facility once the bonds are paid off — ending the team’s lease of the Georgia Dome. The Georgia General Assembly passed a bill that would allow the collection of hotel-motel taxes to be extended if the new stadium were to be built as part of the GWCC campus.
It is estimated that the hotel-motel taxes would contribute about $300 million to the total cost of building a new stadium, but Poe said those estimates could change depending on economic conditions.
McKay, however, reiterated that the Falcons would view the new stadium development as a public-private partnership.
“We understand that the stadium is going to require a substantial financial commitment on our behalf,” McKay said of the Falcons.
But McKay and Poe agreed that the RFP was the “next step in the process” to getting a deal done.
“All the work we have done has been arm-in-arm as a partnership,” McKay said of the Falcons and the GWCC.
And having a conceptual design of the new stadium could help stimulate excitement for the project.
“The process is moving forward,” McKay said. “It’s the next natural step in the process.”