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April 26, 2012
Falcons stadium dream now has $300m+ public pricetag, sliding roof
If you've been waiting impatiently for word on how those talks are going over a new $700 million stadium for the Atlanta Falcons, wait no longer! Only now it's a $950 million stadium, it would have a retractable roof, and it would be accompanied by the demolition of the 20-year-old Georgia Dome:
[Authority director Frank] Poe and Falcons president Rich McKay, who jointly revealed the new direction in negotiations Wednesday, said substantial progress has been made toward a deal but that much work remains to be done. The Falcons want a new stadium because they feel the Dome, which opened in 1992, does not offer the premium seating and other amenities that drive revenue in more recent NFL stadiums. ...
While an indoor/outdoor, retractable-roof facility would make the Dome unneeded, Poe acknowledged "it's a valid concern" how the public will react to the idea of demolishing a stadium that opened just 20 years ago.
The two parties also jointly released a study by Populous — aka HOK, aka "the people who make their money by building new stadiums" — that determined that renovating the Georgia Dome to add a retractable roof would cost $860 million, so why not go the extra $90 million and get a brand-new stadium? Not asked, apparently, was why a retractable roof is so danged important to Falcons owner Arthur Blank, and whether any remodeling could generate enough revenues to earn the Falcons profits without taxpayer subsidies.
Speaking of those subsidies, Poe and McKay said that the "public-sector contribution" would be $300 million, to come from an extension of the hotel-motel tax that paid for the Georgia Dome. Whether that's all is uncertain, though — asked whether Blank would commit to paying the other $650 million, McKay responded: "I think we have negotiated enough to understand what we think the financing plan would look like, and I think we would be prepared to make a deal on those terms." Which is decidedly something other than a "yes."
I've long said that the only thing stopping team owners from demanding stadiums more and more often is chutzpah, and this will be an interesting test of whether a 20-year lifespan for new facilities will pass the laugh test with the public. If Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports blogger Jeff Schultz is any sample, it's not going too well so far:
This is the way it used to work in sports: Build a stadium for a sports team. Decades later, when it grew old and weathered and shingles began to fall from the roof and maybe the rats began to build condominiums, there would be discussion about tearing it down and starting over.
This is the way it works now in sports: Build a stadium for a sports team. A decade or two later (maybe), when the building ceases in its perceived ability to generate enough revenue for the sports owner, then it’s time to build a new one to make him happy.
Except, of course, that even in the old days it was less about shingles falling from the roof than dollars falling from the bank balance. But it sounds less shameless to call a 60-year-old building "old" than a 20-year-old one, and that's the p.r. dilemma Blank and his pals now face. I'm sure they'll come up with something.