Like it or not, Atlanta’s getting a new football stadium, and the Georgia Dome’s done

Jay Busbee
December 11, 2012

The Georgia Dome is a perfectly serviceable football arena in downtown Atlanta, a 71,000-seat facility opened in 1992 that's hosted everything from Super Bowls to Final Fours to Olympics events. And since the key words in that sentence are "perfectly serviceable" and not "state of the art," it's going to get demolished in favor of a sparkly new one ... whether the city of Atlanta needs a new dome or not.

While the Georgia Dome does what it's supposed to do, gather people in one place to watch football/concerts/revival meetings (this is the South, after all)/what-have-you, it is, in NFL dome terms, an aged beauty. And in today's NFL, aged beauties don't get Super Bowls, which is part of the end game here. The Georgia Dome hasn't hosted a Super Bowl since 2000, when the St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans by about a foot.

Moreover, the Falcons are coming to the end of their current lease with the Georgia Dome; it's scheduled to be up in 2017. While there was no talk of leaving Atlanta, there was always the possibility that the team could site a facility in the city's northern regions, where much of its customer base lives. The result, after a couple years of negotiations, is this: a billion-dollar (for the moment) retractable-roof facility to be sited very close to the current dome. As for the aging beauty? Uh ... she'd be sent to a farm to live with Ebbetts Field, the Seattle Kingdome, Tiger Stadium and all those other arenas you don't see anymore.

Interestingly, even the Falcons acknowledge that this isn't a matter of supreme urgency. "We don't need a building to play in next Sunday," team president Rich McKay said. "The Georgia Dome is a good building. We love playing in it. [Falcons coach] Mike Smith has an incredible record in it."

But if the city of Atlanta doesn't necessarily need a new dome, at least it won't be paying the entire bill for its billion-plus-dollar construction. The Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which will own and manage the new dome, has arranged a deal wherein the Falcons will pay 70 percent of the cost, with the remainder being raised by a hotel-motel tax on out-of-towners. It's a solution that keeps the majority of the weight of the stadium's financing off the backs of the public, one which the citizens of Miami would envy.

Thing is, the Falcons won't be paying 70 percent of the cost without expecting a return on its investment, meaning that Falcons fans can expect to pay more for everything from concessions to parking to those lovely Personal Seat Licenses that force fans to demonstrate their loyalty with check after high-figure check. And you could argue that the $300 million the city of Atlanta will spend, via tax revenue, on the new dome could be better spent pretty much anywhere else, but social concerns are no match for the NFL.

Bottom line, as these deals go, this is a reasonable one for the city of Atlanta, which stood to lose the Falcons to a northern suburb if it didn't make this move. And the Falcons will be obligated to the new facility for another 30 years past 2017. Any bets on if they'll still be in that facility come 2047? Didn't think so.