August 2010

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Wen we were debating what words to put on this month’s cover to promote the inaugural season of Georgia State football, I suggested “Football comes Downtown!” (See “The F Word,” page 64.) But Eric Capossela, our design director, rightly reminded me that there’s this little team called the Falcons that already plays Downtown, and in the very stadium that will be the Georgia State Panthers’ home field.

That would be the Georgia Dome, but the Falcons’ continued presence there is by no means a sure thing. Arthur Blank, the team’s owner, has made it clear that he wants his team to play in an open-air stadium in the next ten years. All I can say to that is, it’s about time. Football is a sport meant to be played outside, on real grass, and if they can do it in Green Bay, where the average high temperature in December is 29 degrees, they should sure be able to do it in Atlanta, where a typical December day sees the thermometer top out at 53 degrees—practically sunscreen weather. Last year I had season tickets to the Falcons, and there was something profoundly unnatural about driving Downtown on a gorgeous October Sunday so I could sit inside to watch a football game.

Of course there’s more at stake here than honoring a sport’s tradition. A roof enables stadium owners to host not just football games, but basketball tournaments and motocross and U2 concerts. Taking the roof away risks losing those events to other cities and venues. What’s more, an open-air stadium in Atlanta pretty much guarantees we’ll never get a Super Bowl again. (For that we can thank Mother Nature, who gave us one of the worst ice storms in memory the very week we hosted Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000.)

One answer is a retractable roof. In June, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority released a study that put the cost of a retractable roof on the existing Dome at $200 million. Keep in mind that the price tag for the entire Dome was $214 million, back when it was completed in 1992. And the estimate for the retractable roof doesn’t include another $349 million needed to pay for all the construction necessary to rehab the Dome and bring it up to a condition that would (presumably) satisfy Blank and the Falcons.

If it makes you wonder if we shouldn’t just demolish the Dome and build a new one from scratch, you’re not alone. But keep in mind that the new Dallas Cowboys stadium, considered the Cadillac of stadiums in the NFL, cost $1.2 billion.

The future of the Falcons in Downtown Atlanta promises to dominate the local headlines over the next few years. We’ll be watching that closely, but for now, as another football season kicks off, we wanted to remind readers that football in Georgia means a lot more than the Falcons. So don’t forget the team moms, or the groundskeepers, or the high school coaches, or the rivalries, or—even if you could—Herschel Walker. And don’t forget the Georgia State Panthers, as a new tradition in Downtown football begins.

Contact Steve Fennessy at sfennessy@atlantamag.emmis.com

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