Type to search

Maria's Metro

Questions surround the building of a new open air football stadium

It constantly amazes me that in the United States a 20-year-old dome or a 30-year-old stadium can be viewed as old and out of date. Our practice of tearing down relatively modern structures is the ultimate example of our throw-away society.

We tore down the original Omni Coliseum when it was only 20 years old. We tore down the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium — an open-air, multi-use facility — when it was 30 years old.

(Several local leaders — including my father — Ike Saporta, architect Cecil Alexander and consultant David Peterson — led an unsuccessful Save the Stadium movement. If we had kept the old stadium, we would have had a place to house multiple events including major league soccer).

And on Sunday, Georgia Tech played its last basketball game in Alexander Memorial Stadium along 10th Street. The structure, built in 1956, is being dismantled and will be replaced with a newer sports facility.

Now we’re talking about building a new $700 million open-air stadium for the Atlanta Falcons — which would become the team’s third facility in Atlanta in only five decades.

Given the dollars involved and the public policy issues involved, the community needs to be integrally engaged in forming the best possible solution.

Does the community even need a new stadium? After all, the Georgia Dome has been more than adequate as a home for professional football.

If the decision is made to build a new stadium, is the best location the current leading site — the truck marshalling yard that serves the Georgia World Congress Center?

That site has several drawbacks, including the disruption of the truck marshalling yard. Currently, the yard is ideally located to service the convention center with an underground direct access to the center. This minimizes the number of 18-wheelers traveling on downtown streets, and it also offers great convenience to trade show operators because of its proximity to the center.

The GWCC Authority, and its consultant — Populous, have said land would have to be acquired for a new truck marshalling yard. That begs the question — perhaps we should keep the yard where it is and look to buy another site for the stadium.

Another major drawback of the site is that it is about a 15 minute walk (and not a pleasant walk at that) from MARTA. By comparison, the Georgia Dome sits in between two MARTA stations each less than five minutes away. Perhaps there’s another location that could be better served by MARTA.

The Atlanta Falcons appear to be more interested in the availability of parking — surface parking at that — than being close to transit.

They would like to locate more tail-gating opportunities and envision 10,000 to 20,000 parking spaces surrounding the new stadium.

That’s an awful lot of land dedicated to parked cars for just seven to nine days a year. Nothing destroys an urban area more than acres and acres of vacant land dedicated to surface parking. As evidence, all one needs to do is go to the site of the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium next to Turner Field to see the negative impact of acres and acres of asphalt.

No matter where a new stadium is located, the Falcons and the community must do everything they can to enliven rather than deaden the surrounding area.

Across Northside Drive from the truck marshalling yard is the Antioch Baptist Church North.

“We have been sitting here for 133 years,” said Joe Beasley, Antioch’s human resources director. The church, with its 15,000 members, has two services on Sundays — one at 8 a.m. and one at 11 a.m. “We are not going to allow an amusement center to come in here and disrupt our services.”

Beasley, however, said the community would welcome a new stadium if it would help build the community. Antioch just happens to own 38 acres around the church, so it has a vested interest in the impact the stadium will have on the neighborhood.

“To have 10,000 parking spaces and an open air park, I don’t know if that’s the highest and best use,” Beasley said. “It would be great if we could have something that could draw people in 365 days out of the year.”

Later Beasley said: “We are not going to let them cram a stadium down our throats, but we are open to a partnership.”

The proposed open air stadium also brings up some other questions. The stadium would have fewer seats than the Georgia Dome — 65,000 versus 80,000 (even though the new stadium could add another 10,000 temporary seats for special events).

It would have fewer suites — 111 versus about 140 in the Georgia Dome. It would have more club seats — 7,500 than the current Dome.

The financial scenario would call for more expensive suites and club seats. The idea is that they would be able to command higher prices from companies that would pay more so they could enjoy the games while being protected from the elements.

But that will make games even less affordable for the Average Joe or Jane. And for those sitting in the regular seats, they will be subjected to rain and cold weather. In short, it’s quite possible that Falcons games will become less pleasant experiences for the regular football fan.

And that doesn’t include the premium parking charges, which could be as much as $50 a space for tailgaters.

I can’t help but wonder whether that’s a smart strategy for the Atlanta Falcons and the National Football League.

After all, with advances in technology, it may become more and more attractive (and certainly more affordable) to just watch the game from the comfort from one’s own home with our HDTVs. Plus, the beer is closer and cheaper.

How sad it would be if this new open air stadium became obsolete in 10, 20, 30 years — after hundreds of millions of dollars had been sunk in the ground.

But again, that is the American way.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. If they’re gonna go dumb, they might as well go all out dumb and build a retractable roof stadium, especially given Atlanta’s occasional penchant for rainstorms of bibical proportions during the autumn season when football is played. Planning on trying to operate two football stadiums that are side-by-side each other just is not very smart. Like you, Maria, and many others, I’m not too hot on the idea of using taxpayer dollars to build a new stadium of any kind, period, but in the current high-stakes, high-risk, high-reward world of professional sports and our throw-away society as you called it, the hard fact is that relatively young and capable quality stadiums like the Georgia Dome are obsolete in increasingly shorter periods of time. Seems like the Georgia Dome opened just yesterday, but “yesterday” was nearly 20 years ago and American society and the sport of pro football have undergone decades worth of changes in just that relatively short period of time. It makes no sense to build an open-air stadium that wouldn’t be as viable for year-round all-purpose use as the Georgia Dome has been during it’s entire existence. If a new stadium is to be built, it should be somewhere along the lines of Houston’s Reliant Stadium or the retro-styled Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Because of Atlanta’s importance to the sport of college football, any new stadium should have a “Taj-Mahaj of football” quality to it that has the same impact on the entire sport of football that the opening of Camden Yards in Baltimore had on the entire sport of baseball when it opened in 1992 or the impact Conseco Fieldhouse had on the entire sport of basketball when it opened in Indianapolis in 1999. It should be a custom-built facility with a retro flair that is built to withstand the test of time and that increases the value of the franchise and the community around it at least ten-fold and changes the way that the relationship between spectators and the sport itself is forever viewed.Report

  2. SpaceyG on Twitter March 7, 2011 10:46 am

    Heck, I still miss Omni Beer. (And Deacon Lunchbox. RIP.)Report

  3. Sally Flocks March 7, 2011 11:15 am

    For the estimated $700 million cost of a new stadium, Public Works could address the City’s entire backlog of broken sidewalks, potholes and other road infrastructure. Currently, City leaders say they can’t afford to fix what we already have. Given that, they shouldn’t invest in replacing stadiums that function well. Replacing busted sidewalks and reducing the amount of space dedicated to surface parking lots is likely to attract far more tourists to Atlanta than investing in an open air stadium.Report

  4. David March 7, 2011 11:43 am

    The solution should be obvious– tear the Georgia dome down to its (very usable) frame– and build a completely new retractable roof stadium on top of it… apparently the powers that be have forgotten how utterly miserable the weather can be in Atlanta in the late fall and winter– Tailgating CAN be accomodated near the stadium– A retractable roof while expensive is in the long run less expensive than maintaining two stadiums… Using what’s there as a base is smarter, cheaper and more sustainble than building a totally new stadium…Report

  5. Richard Owens March 7, 2011 11:56 am

    Amen sister — this is absolutely ludicrous. The League says you can’t get the big game without a dome and now the League says you must have open air to get the big game. Foo on the League, this dome is just fine – so ‘they’ say the new field will grow the neighborhood economically – get real, look at the same for the existing site. Roger Goodell, go home.Report

  6. Ken March 7, 2011 2:38 pm

    First of all, per gadome.com, permanent capacity is only 71,250 seats not 80, 000 as this article mentions. Second, it would be folly to build a SMALLER stadium with fewer suites! Third, the city of Atlanta has way too many other problems than replace a 20 year old stadium! Fourth, is Falcon’s owner Blank going to pay for at least half of the stadium’s cost – $350 million? Cowboys Owner Jones came out of pocket for $800 Millionof the $1.2 Billion cost of his new stadium! Fifth, if its an open-air stadium, then its ability to host other events is reduced and, thus, so is revenue. Sixth, building a new stadium when Georgia Dome is only 18 YEARS old is ludicrous! Texas Stadium was 38 years or twice as old as the Georgia Dome before Cowboys Staduim opened. The Astrodome was 45 years old before Reliant Stadium opened in Houston. The Superdome is 37 years old and is undergoing its second upgrade. Maybe what’s needed is updating Georgia Dome? Jerry Jones updated Texas Staduim twice, by adding two levels of suites making it the stadium with more suites than any in the NFL. It reduced seating capacity by at least 2,500 seats but the extra suites gave the Cowboys more revenue than what he lost from removing cheaper seating.Report

  7. Baker March 7, 2011 2:52 pm

    New Facebook group created to “Save Falcons’ Habitat – Keep the Dome” http://is.gd/m7Rf9y Not what a seriously cash-strapped city and state needs right now.Report

  8. a transit fan March 7, 2011 11:54 pm

    Giant parking lots and a MARTA station? I hope that site is an OTP commuter station.Report

  9. Burroughston Broch March 8, 2011 11:11 am

    If Arthur Blank wants a new stadium, let him pay for it himself.
    Having the GWCC involved is a political manuver to avoid taxpayer approval of this boondoggle.
    The politicians know that the taxpayers will not stand for this sort of foolishness.
    Please let the Governor and the GWCC know of your disapproval and the consequences to their future government careers should they pursue a new stadium for Arthur Blank.Report

  10. You're all idiots March 8, 2011 6:05 pm

    The only taxpayer money involved would be the changes to utility infrastructure. Why do any of you think this would be a taxpayer funded stadium??? GWCC is private, the Falcons are private, politicians have no say in the matter. “Public Policy Issues” is not a code word for “Public money”. But if you’re so concerned about your own bottom lines, then object to paying more to drive, park, eat, sit, and live way out in east-Jesus while complaining about the traffic.Report

  11. Burroughston Broch March 8, 2011 8:15 pm

    @ You’re all idiots

    Sir, either you’re the idiot or you’ve been smoking something.

    To quote from the GWCC’s website, “The State of Georgia established the Georgia World Congress Center Authority to develop and operate the Georgia World Congress Center, the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park, and related facilities.” It is an authority of the State and is funded with State funds. Don’t you remember the moaning and groaning of the past few years that the GWCC was running a deficit? Whom do you think covered that deficit – Santa Claus? Whom do you think helped make the bond payments when the GWCC coffers were low?

    Also, the cost of a new stadium is estimated at 3 times the cost to deepen the harbor at Savannah. Our politicians say we cannot afford the Savannah work unless the Federal Government pays a large portion. How is it that State taxpayers can afford to pay for half of a new stadium but cannot afford to pay for the Savannah work, since the Savannah work would bring much more economic return than the stadium.?Report

  12. I’ll have what he’s smoking (>>>”You’re all idiots”), lol! Seriously though, the only taxpayer expense involved could be little more than changes to utility infrastructure if Arthur Blank were to pull a “Jerry Jones” and pay for the new stadium his damn self. Mr. Blank has been an excellent owner of the Falcons and an asset to the North Georgia community and could be an even better asset to the community if he were to either pay most or all the cost of the new stadium that he so desperately wants.
    Also, the plan to signiificantly expand and boost the amount of surface parking available to accommodate a better pregame and tailgating experience, while highly desirable to hard-core pro- football fans, doesn’t really jibe much with the long-term plans of local planners to decrease dependency on and overuse of automobiles and encourage more use of rapid transit and smarter, more sustainable land use in the urban core of the Atlanta Region, which as we all know all too well, is suffering from overdependency on an aging and built-out freeway system and an obviously beyond inadequate system of surface streets. Encouraging even more overdependency on automobiles and overuse of an inadequate road network in a town that needs critically to develop and use other modes of transportation in the face of an increasingly miserable traffic problem and attempting to bully severely cash-strapped local governments to pay for a new open-air stadium that would provide very little, if any, financial return is short-sighted for the community, extremely selfish on Arthur Blank’s part and is very disappointing especially given Mr. Blank’s overall track record of being one of Atlanta’s most supportive and valuable leading citizens.Report

  13. Burroughston Broch March 9, 2011 8:11 am

    @ Will the last Democrat in Georgia please turn off the lights…..

    Mr. Blank should pay for the cost of utility and transportation infrastructure improvements as well. I am involved in the design of two building projects, each costing the owner between $300 million and $900 million. The owner of each project is paying for all of the utility and transportation infrastructure improvements required, not the taxpayers. Each one of those projects will provide a substantial number of full-time, well-paying jobs, unlike what Mr. Blank’s stadium will provide.Report

  14. Hattie March 10, 2011 12:52 pm

    Stadiums are not the best economic development investment in this city and will not help the communities that will surround it based on our history. All we need to do is to take a look at other stadiums built – Turner Stadium, Braves Stadium and the Dome Stadium, none provided economic benefits to the community. The communities need more than parking lots and seasonal jobs – it needs serious reinvestment and a development plan that responds to the citizens that will be most affected. The Dome created the Dome Trust Fund which was to assist in the redevelopment of Vine City – no one knows what happened to the fund that had minimal impact on a still neglected community. More strategic thinking needs to take place and the community benefits need to be outlined.Report

  15. Burroughston Broch March 10, 2011 3:05 pm

    @ Hattie.

    You are spot on. The GWCC and Arthur Blank have no interest in the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods since they in general don’t attend conventions and athletic events. Their only interest is in a source of cheap property with minimum complaints.Report

  16. Franco March 10, 2011 3:06 pm

    Let Blank pay for his own stadium. As much as I like the man, he has adopted the mindset of his fellow owners regarding the stadium issue. I agree with those who ask if we have forgotten what going to a football game in the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in late December was like. I attended a number of Peach Bowls there when the weather was freezing, usually with icy rain. It was absolutely miserable. Who wants that? I doubt that even Mr. Blank would want that considering his penchant for being on the sidelines with his players and coaches. It would be a different and lesser experience for him if he were to abandon the sidelines for a comfy owner’s suite in a new open air stadium.Report

  17. Lisa Frank March 11, 2011 5:09 pm

    As usual, thank you Maria for raising all the right questions.Report

  18. walter matthews March 14, 2011 4:31 pm

    Is there a problem with building a new stadium on the vacant land opposite the present dome?
    Mr. Blank can purchase the property now on the market for $10,000,000 and build an out door facility across the street from the existing Dome and fund it himself. Build ample parking and a hotel adjacent to it and close to Marta, also build a connecting bridge to the existing Dome.

    I forsee a big problem with the site they are considering. Who wants to walk from the northside marta station to the proposed new outdoor stadiums , whether or not the whether is good or bad. These rich dudes need to rethink their strategy.Report

  19. jm March 15, 2011 10:56 am

    It’s called progress. Buildings do not last forever, they become, in industry terms: “functionally obsolete”Report

  20. jm March 15, 2011 10:58 am

    BTW, maybe an NFL strike will kill the whole thing. Likely not though.Report

  21. matt June 17, 2011 10:48 am

    I am a sports lover, I am a die hard Miami Sports fan, and I am over us tearing down stadiums and arenas to build new ones without any character, our beloved Orange Bowl was old, was not pretty in anyway, but it had soul, watching highlight of my second favorite team in Football in my youth (Because of ex Hurricane Kosar) the cleveland browns in their old stadium gives me chills, now they have a stadium that looks just like the one Cinci, Denver, Chicago, New England, New Jersey….etc old stadiums have character, please let’s save them, I watch english premier soccer and watch Old Trafford in Manchester which was built in the 1800’s and other stadiums there as well, and I am so envious of what they have, no stadium is like the others, now they do spend money on fixing them, but they dont bring it down and build another every 25 years like we do, Imagine if in cleveland instead of spending $300 million to build the new stadium they spend $150 million to renovate the heck out of their beautiful old stadium, or here Miami my Orange Bowl would have been renovated instead of the stupid Marlins getting their new stadium which will have $5000 fans a night… Miami is a Football town, we will always be a Football town, that is why the next day after the Heat lost to Dallas I had the “Heat Who?” attitude…. off subject here sorry, my message is let’s get together and voice our opinons on saving classic stadiums, Tiger Stadium, Old Yankee stadium……. Tragedy that they are no longer alive 🙁Report

  22. Burroughston Broch June 18, 2011 9:24 am

    @ matt
    I agree with your sentiments but, unfortunately, the team owners and politicians don’t agree.

    The team owners want more amenities like skyboxes for the highroller and corporate clients who pay the big $; they care little for you or me since we buy a cheap ticket and don’t spend a small fortune on food and drink. Truth be told, they’d rather have a stadium of all skyboxes and no bleachers. Trafford Park would be long gone in the USA.

    The politicians are always looking for an opportunity to strut and preen in public while someone else is paying. They like the team owners because some of their money will rub off in the right places. They also feel its OK to spend the public’s money because it’s not their own.Report


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.