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In a “significant shift in the discussions about a proposed new home for the Atlanta Falcons, the team and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority are trying to work out a deal that would result in building a retractable-roof stadium downtown and demolishing the Georgia Dome,” according to Tucker & Stafford of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. A study conducted by K.C.-based architectural firm Populous was released yesterday and “put the cost of a new retractable-roof stadium at $947.7 million, up from the $700 million estimated last year for an open-air stadium.” GWCC Authority Exec Dir Frank Poe, whose agency operates the Dome, said that under either plan the public-sector contribution “would be an estimated $300 million from an extension of the hotel-motel occupancy tax, passed by the Georgia Legislature in 2010.” Poe and Falcons President & CEO 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.” Poe said that in addition to “a previously disclosed site one-half mile north of the Georgia Dome,” another site just south of the Dome “is under examination.” Tucker & Stafford write the “turn in talks toward a retractable-roof stadium means the Falcons’ original preference of an open-air facility … is off the table.” McKay was asked if Falcons Owner Arthur Blank is “prepared to cover the roughly $650 million difference between the estimated hotel-motel tax contribution and the new cost estimate.” McKay: “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.” The study found that “redeveloping the Dome with a retractable roof would cost $859.3 million, $88.4 million less than the $947.7 million cost of building new on a nearby site.” The Falcons’ lease commitment to the Dome “expires when the bonds that funded the building’s construction are paid off later this decade.” If a deal is reached, the Falcons “hope construction will begin in 2014 and that they will play in the new stadium in 2017” (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 4/26).
GONE SO SOON? In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz wrote, “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.” But Blank should get “credit for this: He’s probably going to pull this off without once alienating the public by threatening to move his team to Los Angeles, Toronto or London, or just selling it to Winnipeg.” Still, there is “something wrong with this,” and there is “something wrong when a perfectly good building is scheduled to be detonated.” It is “easy to understand Blank’s position on this: He can’t generate enough revenue in the Georgia Dome,” which “doesn’t have enough suites, enough signage, enough martini bars.” It is the “reason the Falcons’ overall value pales in comparison to that of other NFL franchises” (AJC.com, 4/25).
Although the new LED scoreboard under the right-field patio at Wrigley Field has been a "financial breakthrough for the Cubs organization," some opposing teams are complaining that the board "can get so bright during night games it makes it difficult to warm up their relievers," according to Paul Sullivan of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Cardinals bullpen C Jamie Pogue said, "The numbers are white, and the ball is coming out of there, so it's really difficult to see." The Brewers voiced "similar complaints during the two night games on the first homestand at Wrigley." A Cubs spokesperson said that they are "aware of the Brewers' complaints but said the LED board 'is not an issue.'" One of the problems was a "white background for ads of one of the Cubs' sponsors." The spokesperson said that the background color "has been changed on those ads." The Cubs tested the conditions when the LED board was put in place before the season, and "found no reason to change the brightness." The Cardinals "have not lodged a formal complaint" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/25). Pogue said that he has "already seen a change" since the issue first went public Tuesday. He noticed yesterday that "head shots were on both edges of the video board, taking them out of the line of sight of the bullpen catchers." The head shots were moved during the Cardinals series "not only to help with bullpen vision issues but to also help more fans see the pitch count." The Cubs will "review all other concerns" during the team's upcoming road trip (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 4/25).
DOUBLE YOUR PLEASURE: In Chicago, Greg Hinz noted that while things are "still moving around" in talks about how to rebuild/renovate Wrigley Field, the public is "being asked to put in both less and more than you might suspect." On the table is a $500M or so plan, which includes $300M to "reconstruct the nearly century-old Wrigley and $200 million for the 'Triangle' parking, entertainment and multiuse structure off the west wall of the ballpark." Cubs Owner the Ricketts family "and/or the team would pay for the Triangle building." That means $300M "is needed for the ballpark proper." Half of that "would come from the team, presumably in increased revenue from more signage inside Wrigley and retail and other entertainment." The other half "would come from $150 million or so in bonds to be retired with increased revenue from the existing city and Cook County amusement taxes on ticket sales." The team also wants a 50% "cut of any increase in amusement tax revenue growth" above 6%. And unlike the bonds, which "would be retired in 30 or 35 years, that would be forever" (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 4/25).
New conceptual images of the Oiler's future downtown arena were released yesterday and they “show a cool, curvy building of metal and glass, lit up like a lantern and perched over a major traffic artery, 104th Avenue,” according to David Staples of the EDMONTON JOURNAL. The images were “created in March by 360 Architecture, the U.S. firm that has been hired to design the arena.” City of Edmonton Manager of Corporate Properties Rick Daviss said that conceptual images “will be shown to city council on May 16, but the design may have changed by then." The images “are 50 per cent of the finished product, not the final concept.” Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel said of the renderings, "It's very cool. That's gorgeous. I want something fantastic, but we also have a budget. The budget has to be abided by” (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 4/26). Also in Edmonton, Tanara McLean notes once councilors view the updated sketches in May, “residents will have about three weeks to give their input through public forums and live displays at city hall” (EDMONTON SUN, 4/26).
With a large backdrop sign declaring "Fans Spoke...We Listened," SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith yesterday announced that he "ordered engineers to eliminate the progressive banking at the high-banked" Bristol Motor Speedway, according to Allen Gregory of the BRISTOL HERALD COURIER. Workers from Calif.-based Penhall Co. have "already begun the intricate process of grinding away the top lane from the concrete surface in all four turns." Smith said, "I think it’s going to be a lot better than it was. It’s going to be exciting. We think we will win all these race fans over to our side on this, and chances are we’ll have a complete sellout here in August." SMI President & COO Marcus Smith said, "This wasn’t an overnight decision. This is something we’ve been considering since repaving the track in 2007. While the chatter has been more this year, it’s the culmination of the last few years." BMS Exec VP & GM Jerry Caldwell said, "There were some fabulous moments, but you're remembering key moments from 45 years of history. We want a good race, year after year." Caldwell said that SMI engineers "faced complex decisions and time constraints with altering the track in time" for the NASCAR Nationwide Series Food City 250 and Sprint Cup Irwin Tools Night Race, Aug. 24-25, respectively. In addition, Goodyear officials have "scheduled a tire test" at BMS for June 12-13 (BRISTOL HERALD COURIER, 4/26).
AT WHAT COST? In Tennessee, Nate Hubbard writes, "Compared to 2007 -- when the progressive banking was initially installed during a complete resurfacing of the track -- the latest revamp is a minor adjustment." Final financial figures "were never released" for the '07 resurfacing and BMS officials yesterday "gave only 'eight figures' as the total for the past work." Bruton Smith had previously cited $1M "as the amount of money he planned to pour into the track" when he first announced he would be making changes in March. Caldwell said, "I don't know what the final number will end up being. It's kind of like a road project -- you don't know what you're going to run into. I think you can easily say it's going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars." Bruton Smith: "You can't please everyone, but we had more 'don't-touch-its, leave-it-alones' than we did otherwise. What we're doing now is modifying what we have. I really believe we're doing the right thing" (BRISTOL HERALD COURIER, 4/26).
IF I WANTED YOUR OPINION...: Bruton Smith said, "I have built more speedways than anybody in the world, and I have never consulted race drivers when I'm building a speedway because it'll drive you nuts. ... I guarantee you're going to have close to 43 opinions. We're modifying the track. Come August, we'll find out if we were right or wrong." USA TODAY's Nate Ryan notes Smith "had the approval of NASCAR officials" such as VP/Competition Robin Pemberton. NASCAR driver Jeff Burton said, "I find it interesting that some racetracks, when they make some changes, they never call drivers to say, 'OK, here's what we want to do; we know you might not like it, how do we accomplish it?' Guess what? We know more about it [than] some people making those decisions. We might not agree" (USA TODAY, 4/26).
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? SPORTING NEWS' Bob Pockrass wrote, "While track officials might have listened, they ultimately decided to make changes to the track even though 60 percent of the fans surveyed asked them not to change it." Bruton Smith said that he "has never had an issue where fans were so split." He also said that he "did not anticipate a change in ticket prices for next year and even plans on possibly adding 7,000 seats to the 158,000-seat track" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 4/25). ESPN.com's David Newton wrote Bruton Smith "better be right." If not, NASCAR fans "may create an even bigger public relations nightmare" for him. What Smith is doing "is a far cry from what he seemed to be suggesting after the March 18 race, which was tearing up the progressive banking and building Bristol back to the way it was when it was the toughest ticket in NASCAR." Newton noted it is "an expensive risk if it doesn't work out," but "at least Smith is trying to change things." Besides grinding Bristol, he also "will personally ask Goodyear to bring a softer tire" for the August races. Newton: "To Smith's credit, he's trying to do something about entertaining the fans at Bristol." Smith "may be taking a risk by not returning the track to the way it was, but he didn't become one of the richest people in NASCAR by playing it safe" (ESPN.com, 4/25).
In San Diego, Bill Center noted both Padres manager Bud Black and Exec VP & GM Josh Byrnes “support the idea of adjusting the dimensions at Petco Park.” Byrnes yesterday said, “I think the way Petco Park is configured now is too distorted against the hitters, bad for the fans and affects the psyche of our club." He added, "From the business side and the fan side, it is a no brainer.” In ’08, then President Sandy Alderson “favored shortening the distances to right field and right center,” but those plans “died when John Moores sold the Padres to Jeff Moorad’s group” early in ’09. Center noted coincidentally, one of the “first things Alderson did as the CEO of the Mets was initiate the shortening of the fences" at Citi Field. Byrnes said, “I’ve watched games at CitiField and I think the changes have enhanced the game and the fans’ experience” (UTSANDIEGO.com, 4/25).
EVERY PRECAUTION NECESSARY: In London, Jacquelin Magnay reported All England Lawn Tennis Club ground staff “have installed an electrified fence around the Centre Court to protect the grass surface in preparation for a gruelling summer tennis campaign which includes Wimbledon and the London 2012 tennis event.” AELTC Chair Philip Brook said that he was “confident the grass courts will be restored after the Wimbledon Championships in time for the Games.” The ground staff “have been running trials over the last two years, including completely replacing some grass on courts to ensure the worn lawns at the end of Wimbledon fortnight, can recover in time for the Olympics.” There are also plans to "reduce Wimbledon matches on some of the outside courts that will be later used for Olympic matches which will feature 172 players” (TELEGRAPH.co.uk, 4/25).
RIGHT ON TIME: In Green Bay, Richard Ryman reports the Lambeau Field expansion “is on schedule, with the new video scoreboards set to be in operation for the annual Green Bay Packers shareholders' meeting on July 24.” Members of the Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District “toured the construction site Wednesday, including the new rooftop viewing area over the north end zone” (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 4/26).