By Maria Saporta and Amy Wenk
The new Atlanta Falcons stadium is expected to cost $1.2 billion — an increase of $200 million over earlier projections.
At a Georgia World Congress Center Authority stadium development committee meeting on Monday, Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay said the increased costs are due to several factors related to the design and the site.
It is all part of the desire of Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons, to develop a cutting-edge stadium for the city.
“The majority of the increased cost is related to the iconic design,” McKay said after the meeting. “We never wavered from the design. We may have even enhanced it. That drives a lot of that cost.”
The increased budget also is partly due to building the stadium on the site south of the Georgia Dome and the fact that it is basically an open-air stadium that will have the ability to be air conditioned and heated.
“Our desire initially was to build an open air stadium,” McKay said. “We set a goal that we can design an open air stadium that can be climatized. When you go into that process, there’s a lot of expense behind that goal. There are a lot of things at play that added to the cost.”
Frank Poe, executive director of the Georgia World Congress Authority, said earlier projections were done before a decision had been made on the design. He said he is not surprised that the budget is now higher than earlier estimates.
“It’s just a reflection that Arthur wants this building to be iconic,” Poe said. “We all knew the south site was going to be the best site for a lot of reasons, but it’s a site not without its challenges. The Falcons are creating an iconic facility for the city and the state.”
Under the budget released to the committee on Monday, $102 million is being spent on development and preconstruction; $73 million on design and professional services; $77 million on systems and equipment; and $948 million on construction and contingency costs.
The agreement between the Atlanta Falcons, the GWCCA and the City of Atlanta stipulates that the Blank and the football team will absorb any cost overruns.
As currently projected, the project budget will include $200 million from Invest Atlanta’s bonds backed by city hotel-motel taxes; $200 million from the National Football League’s G-4 program; and $800 million from the Atlanta Falcons revenues, Arthur Blank and the personal seat licenses.
Taxpayers are not at any greater risk if the project costs increase. Also, the state of Georgia will own the new stadium and the Atlanta Falcons will be required to play in the new facility until it is paid off.
The Falcons also informed the GWCCA committee that Bank of America has stated that the team will be able to cover the financing of the facility.
The new $1.2 billion stadium for the Atlanta Falcons is being designed to accommodate a variety of events — from football, basketball and soccer games, to concerts, to big-name championship games such as the Superbowl or Final Four.
“There is not any event that Atlanta cannot get in this building,” Bill Johnson, senior principal of 360 Architecture, the Kansas City, Mo.-based firm leading the design process, said at an Oct. 28 meeting.
At approximately 1.9 million square feet, the new stadium will be larger than the existing Georgia Dome, which is around 1.6 million square feet.
The seating at the new stadium will be able to be configured in a variety of ways, depending on the event.
On a typical day, the stadium would be able to seat 71, 029 fans, including 7,594 club seats, 4,342 suite seats and 362 restaurant seats. That number could grow to 75,173 seats if Atlanta landed the Superbowl or SEC championship games. It could be further expanded to 83,826 seats should the city score the right to host another Final Four as it did this year.
The new stadium would shrink (through the use of screens to cover upper-level seats) to 31,085 seats for Major League Soccer games. Or, it could shrink to 56,636 seats for concerts or other legacy events that require a stage at one end of the stadium.
“It’s stunning,” Georgia Rep. Jan Jones, House Speaker Pro Tem, said after the meeting Monday. “It appears that they have thought of all potential events that could be held there … It needed to be spectacular to justify tearing down the Georgia Dome. And, it is.”
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the new stadium is its retractable roof, which has eight petal-like panels that can open and close to let in different amounts of sunlight. To compliment that, the stadium will feature a large “city window” that will showcase a view of the downtown Atlanta skyline. Also, windows along the concourse level of the stadium will open and close to allow air to flow through the stadium.
“One of the most exciting spots,” Johnson said, will be along a sky bridge near the city window, which will allow fans to peer over the east end zone. Other fun features include fantasy football lounges and a “100-Yard Bar.”
Both should offer alternative ways to experience game day. The whole idea is to encourage more fans to attend games instead of watch them on television.
GWCCA’s Poe added he felt the falcons’ approach to electronic signage and bowl configuration was an advantage.
“I think just the exterior design is phenomenal,” Poe adding, saying the stadium has a profile that brings “energy back to the campus.”
The hope is the new stadium attracts more events. Currently, the Georgia Dome is used about 200 days a year for various happenings.
Construction is expected to begin around April 1, 2014; and the new stadium is supposed to open in March 2017.
The systematic design, stadium budget and other project documents are expected to be approved at a Oct. 29 meeting of the GWCCA.