SBJ/Nov. 4-10, 2013/Facilities

Board approves $1.2B design for Falcons stadium

After the new $1.2 billion Atlanta Falcons stadium design was unanimously approved by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority board Tuesday afternoon, lead architect Bill Johnson expressed excitement rather than concern.

Asked if he was worried whether the first-of-its-kind design for a retractable-roof stadium would work, Johnson laughed. Quite the opposite, he said.

“I’m looking forward to when that roof opens up for the first time,” Johnson said of the eight panels that will travel along octagonal tracks to create an opening to the skies. “The heavens will open up.”

More seriously, Johnson said: “I’m not worried at all. We have a great city, and we have a great owner.”

Johnson was referring to Arthur Blank, who had told the designers he wanted to build a retractable-roof stadium unlike anything that had ever been built before. Johnson, senior principal of Kansas City-based 360 Architecture, took that task to heart. “Don’t build a building like everyone else,” Johnson recalled being told.

The resulting design calls for a roof that would open in much the same way as a traditional camera lens opens to take a picture. Johnson also said Blank wanted the building to have a “dramatic view of the downtown skyline,” so the architects oriented the stadium so that there would be a “window to the city” by removing seats on the eastern side of the structure.

In addition to the schematic design, the GWCCA board last week unanimously approved the preliminary budget for the new stadium, plus a host of legal documents related to the deal.

At $1.2 billion, the stadium’s cost is $200 million more than team officials had projected. Falcons President Rich McKay said the increase is due to several factors related to the design and the site.

“The majority of the increased cost is related to the iconic design,” McKay said. “We never wavered from the design. We may have even enhanced it. That drives a lot of that cost.”

The increased budget also is due to the targeted 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.”

The stadium should be complete in time for the 2017 football season.

Maria Saporta is a contributing writer for the Atlanta Business Chronicle, an affiliated publication. Correspondent Amy Wenk contributed to this report.
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