With Falcons Footing Latest $200M, Stadium's Budget, Design OK'd

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Copyright 2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
October 30, 2013 Wednesday
Main Edition
912 words
Authority's board approves Falcons stadium design, budget
Tim Tucker, Leon Stafford; Staff

Team shouldering additional $200M in costs plays a big role.

A state agency signed off Tuesday on the latest plans --- and the latest price --- for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority board voted unanimously to approve the stadium's schematic design and its $1.2 billion budget, up $200 million from the earlier estimate.

Board chairman Tim Lowe said in an interview after the vote that he loves the design and the fact that the Falcons are paying for the cost increase.

"We get $200 million more of whistles and bells, and the public is not charged any more for it," Lowe said.

The taxpayer contribution toward the stadium's construction is the same as before: $200 million from bonds backed by Atlanta's hotel-motel tax. The revised budget raises the cost to be covered by the Falcons, the NFL and personal seat-license sales from $800 million to $1 billion.

NFL owners approved league funding of $200 million in May, and that won't change. The Falcons haven't said how much they expect to raise from a seat-license program in which fans will be asked to pay one-time fees for the right to buy season tickets, but a GWCCA-commissioned study two years ago suggested such a program could generate $100 million to $200 million.

Falcons executive vice president Greg Beadles told the GWCCA board that the team chose to increase the budget rather than scale back on the design.

"That extra cost is on our team," Beadles said.

He said the Falcons provided a feasibility letter to the GWCCA from a bank stating "that we can indeed back up these numbers and pay for the stadium."

The stadium, to be built just south of the GWCCA-operated Georgia Dome, will become part of the Congress Center campus. The Dome will be demolished after the new facility is built. The deal reached earlier this year made the Falcons the stadium developer but gave the GWCCA various approval rights, including over design and budget.

The lead architect, Bill Johnson of Kansas City-based 360 Architecture, said it became clear early in the design process that the original $1 billion budget would be insufficient.

"That budget was based on square footage and other buildings that had been built in other places," Johnson said. "Until we really got a sense of what (Falcons owner) Arthur Blank wanted and what the Falcons were hoping for ... those numbers were targets that were maybe unrealistic in terms of the expectations."

Johnson presented the schematic design to the GWCCA board, pointing out various features of the eight-sided angular building. Board members approved the design without discussion but commented on it in interviews later.

"I'm just stunned," Lowe said. "I think it absolutely has the potential of being the best stadium in the world."

Board member David Allman said he believes the stadium "will receive superior marks architecturally and functionally."

"I think they obviously had the desire and the vision to wow everybody," board member Glenn Hicks said, "and I think it certainly has an impact in that way. But at the same time, I just think any time you can get private dollars for an asset that's a billion two and it's going to be a state (owned) asset, that is setting the bar high for a public-private partnership."

But Neil deMause, author of the book "Field of Schemes," which examined stadium deals nationwide, said the Falcons' additional contribution will benefit the team more than the state because the team will get the revenue from the stadium.

"The last thing you really want is to own a sports facility," deMause said. "What you want to own is the revenue stream."

The stadium is scheduled to open in 2017. Groundbreaking is planned for April.


Here are some upcoming steps in the Falcons stadium project:

More land acquisition: The Georgia World Congress Center Authority is attempting to acquire five small parcels of land on or near the stadium site, totaling about 2 acres. The state agency has begun the process of using eminent domain to acquire one of the parcels, a gravel parking lot. The GWCCA apparently has made progress in negotiations with the owners of the other four.

Community benefits package and bond issuance: A community benefits plan/agreement, addressing how $30 million will be spent in neighborhoods directly impacted by the stadium, must be approved by the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Kasim Reed before bonds can be issued to fund the $200 million taxpayer portion of the stadium's construction cost.

Definitive contracts: The Falcons, GWCCA and Invest Atlanta (the city's development authority) continue to negotiate definitive contracts about various aspects of the stadium deal. These documents will supersede the memorandum of understanding signed in April. Some of the new documents were to have been signed by Oct. 31, but that has been delayed because of open issues. The new goal is to get them done in November.

Personal seat-license sales: To help fund the cost of the stadium, the Falcons plan to ask fans to pay one-time fees for the right to buy future season tickets. The team hasn't provided any details about the seat-license program, such as prices. Team president Rich McKay suggested this week that answers won't be available before next year.

More design work: With the schematic plans approved, the design process will continue. More detailed drawings are due in January.

Groundbreaking: Planned for April.

--- Tim Tucker

Atlanta isn't the only city with stadium dreams. See what other projects are on the drawing boards around the country.

October 30, 2013

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