Do we need a new stadium in Atlanta?
In 2017, the Atlanta Falcons will have a new home in its shiny and new $1 billion dollar stadium designed by 360 Architecture. The design has a retractable roof that opens and closes depending on the weather, as well as adaptable seating to allow for different crowd sizes. A new sports facility, especially one that has such a sleek design as the new stadium, sounds appealing, however, is it really what Atlanta needs right now? The new iPhone 6 is appealing because it is new, and therefore everyone wants it, even though their iPhone 5 is still pretty good. Every NFL team wants a new stadium, even if their current stadium is still pretty good.
Though the lease on the “old” Georgia Dome is up after 20 years of use, the current facility is still in good working condition. It is possible to even renovate the structure and update amenities and comfort. Kansas City has proven that this is a viable option, as their 42 year old Arrowhead stadium has been through successful renovations, and Chief fans have stayed loyal to their team’s home. This is not what the NFL wants; top executives call for cities to construct new stadiums or a complete renovation. However, as Kansas City recognized, there are better uses of a city’s money and resources.
The new Falcons stadium will be using $300 million of hotel-motel tax revenue to supplement costs (this number has steadily increased since the original $200 million first proposed and is still increasing). 40% of this money has been designated for paying off the Georgia Dome’s debts as well as for any “superior facilities” following it. To use it to supplement over 30% of the construction costs is superfluous. The purpose of the hotel-motel tax is to bring in money from tourists and recycle said money back into tourism. With a city whose issues and criticisms are so rooted in its traffic and sprawl, would it not make more sense to update Atlanta’s infrastructure (such as fixing MARTA and finally giving us a legitimate means of public transportation)? Such a state expenditure should meet a public purpose, and it represents a public commitment to the project. Is the Falcon’s stadium a public purpose more pressing than other public needs? Does it and will it be such a tourist trap that it generates enough revenue to make up for what it asked for in cost? In terms of attendance, like most Atlanta sports teams, the Falcons have always been in the middle of the pack or last.
Yes, a new stadium will go through a honeymoon phase, and initial numbers and visitors will be high. However, will a new facility magically make a team be significantly better to a point where there will be a long-term increase in attendance (rather than a short term boost)? I am an Atlanta sports fan through and through, and I love watching my Dirty Birds, but I am skeptical as to whether in 2017 the Falcons will finally get over the hump and make the Superbowl they are so capable of making. It is not a stadium’s performance, but a team’s performance that puts people in the stands.
There are other issues such as the minimal use of the stadium when it is constructed, as well as the still undesirable site it will be located in. The stadium is a huge environmental footprint, an issue which hasn’t been addressed enough in its construction (and about its future use). All of these issues will be answered only after its completion. Atlanta needs an architectural icon, but will this be it? Will the new Falcons stadium be the face of our city? Only such an accomplishment will justify its existence.