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Falcons lean toward open-air stadium

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By D. Orlando Ledbetter and Leon Stafford

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The era of indoor pro football in Atlanta could be coming to a close, if Falcons team officials have their way.

Rich McKay, the football team’s president, said Wednesday the Falcons lean toward an open-air stadium for their next facility. The team also wants to stay downtown on the campus of the Georgia World Congress Center.

“Our first preference would be to be downtown,” McKay said in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s something that (Falcons owner Arthur Blank) is focused on. If we can make it happen, we are going to try.”

But the Falcons’ desire for autumn skies overhead could clash with the some of the Dome’s biggest moneymakers, each of which prefer to play indoors.

In addition to the Falcons, the Dome also is home to the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the SEC football championship, noted Frank Poe, executive director of the GWCC, which oversees operations of the state-owned Dome. The facility has also been the site of two Super Bowls and several Final Four basketball championships, and it is used for variety of other events.

To host such events and satisfy the Falcons, the GWCC would have to operate both a new stadium and the Dome, a situation that could stretch GWCC resources thin, Poe said.

“That’s something that will have to be weighed into our discussions over the next few months,” Poe said.

McKay’s comments were the first time an official for the team, which has called the Dome home since 1992, has talked about management’s preferences for a new home.

The team and the GWCC have been looking for months at options including renovating the current Dome, or building a new dome, an open-air facility or a retractable-roof stadium.

McKay said a retractable roof is too costly, while renovating the Dome would not provide a state-of-the-art facility for the long term.

Officials with the team recently began privately briefing key city and civic leaders about its plans.

The Dome, though updated several times since its construction, is becoming one of the oldest stadiums in the league. Discussions about the team’s digs intensified over the past few months as the Georgia legislature passed a bill extending the hotel-motel tax for the Dome until 2045.

Money for a new stadium would come from the tax and a contribution by the Falcons. The amount from each is to be negotiated, as is the division of revenue from concessions, parking and other sources.

“The process is starting to pick up a little speed . . . as we move along with the (GWCC),” McKay said.

McKay said potential sites for a new stadium include property on the north side of the GWCC campus or the Dome’s current site.

GWCC officials, meanwhile, have commissioned a study, due this summer, looking at updating the Dome. A second phase will look at whether the Dome should be replaced with a new one, an open-air field or one with a retractable roof, Poe said.

If a plausible downtown site is not found, the Falcons may yet look elsewhere, McKay said.

“We have to pay attention to other sites in the event that we are unable to reach a deal with the authority that’s satisfactory to them and that’s satisfactory to us,” McKay said.

McKay said an open-air stadium would boost the city’s World Cup soccer bids for either 2018 or 2022.

The Falcons project that a new stadium would cost substantially less than the $1.15 billion the Dallas Cowboys spent on their new stadium or the $1.6 billion spent on the new home for the New York Giants and New York Jets.

McKay said Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field and Seattle’s Qwest Field, built for $512 million and $360 million, respectively, “are better benchmarks with respect to costs.”

McKay said ground breaking could be as soon as late 2012 if a deal is struck from current talks.

“This will be something where we try to create a public-private partnership and that partnership requires a substantial investment,” McKay said. “We understand that. We’ve seen it in other deals throughout the NFL and we intend to do that.”

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No kidding, just go ahead and fire Mckay, hes screwing that job up too, we need a retractable dome, it would be better in the long run. ;)

With 2 field length twin sided 3D LED screens on each side just below the retractable lid..Not like the Dallas stadium. Be smart and line the tv's up along the sidelines designed for the upper deck viewers. The lower deck viewers can see well enough...

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I think they are trying to get out too cheaply at first for an easy sell, which is why they are proposing open roof. Once all the other factors and interests are involved, I'm confident the high cost of a retractable roof will be in play, and ultimately the final goal.

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