Top stadium questions

By Tim Tucker ttucker@ajc.com

As the Atlanta City Council ponders a plan to build a retractable-roof stadium downtown, questions continue to swirl around the proposed new home of the Falcons. Today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution tackles 10 questions readers frequently ask about the much-debated project.

1. Why do the Falcons want a new stadium anyway? When that overarching question is asked, as it often is, the Falcons point out that their Georgia Dome lease will expire late this decade and that 25 NFL stadiums have been built or extensively renovated since the Dome opened in 1992. The Falcons say the Dome is not configured to provide the premium-seating amenities — and revenue — of newer NFL stadiums and would not be a long-term solution even with a massive renovation.

2. What, specifically, would the new stadium have that the Georgia Dome does not?

The most obvious difference would be a retractable roof, which would satisfy the Falcons’ stated desire to play outdoors. Other expected differences: more seats in the lower bowl and fewer in the upper-bowl corners and end zones; about twice as many club seats, including some in the lower bowl around mid-field; field-level suites in the end zones; more sponsorship opportunities and high-tech features; and additional square footage that would accommodate added amenities, such as field-level club areas, while keeping the seating capacity about the same. All of those elements are typical of recently built stadiums and drive revenue.

3. Would the new stadium have more suites than the Dome?

Actually, it would have fewer. The Dome has 173 suites, which do not sell out, and the new stadium would have about 120, according to preliminary specifications. The idea is that fewer would be needed because of the increased number of club seats.

4. Wouldn’t it be simpler and cheaper to convert the Dome into a stadium of the Falcons’ liking?

A study last year found that the Dome could essentially be gutted and transformed into a stadium with most of the desired features, including a retractable roof. But the idea was dismissed by the Falcons and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority because of three drawbacks cited in the study: an $859 million cost, only 10 to 15 percent less than for a new stadium; a decrease in Falcons seating capacity from 71,250 to 57,500 to accommodate the roof apparatus and other amenities; and the displacement of Falcons games and other events for one to two years during construction.

5. The NFL says a new stadium is needed for Atlanta to host another Super Bowl. Yet, this year’s Super Bowl was played in New Orleans’ Superdome, which is older than the Georgia Dome. Isn’t that a double standard?

Yes. Atlanta likely would host another Super Bowl if the stadium is built, because of the NFL policy of using the mega-event as a carrot to encourage partial public funding of new stadiums. But in years when the game is not used as a onetime reward for building a stadium, the NFL prefers to play the Super Bowl in warm-winter locales such as Florida, Arizona and ... New Orleans.

6. How does the Georgia Dome, which will be 25 years old in 2017, compare in age with other domed stadiums that have been replaced?

Domed stadiums have a history of shorter life spans than open-air stadiums, but the Georgia Dome would be near the short end of the spectrum if it is replaced in 2017. The Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks moved out of domed stadiums after 24 seasons, the Detroit Lions after 27 seasons, and the (then) Houston Oilers after 29 seasons. The Minnesota Vikings are designing a stadium to replace the 31-yearold Metrodome. The New Orleans Saints continue to play in the 38-year-old Superdome, which has had extensive renovations.

7. The same percentage of Atlanta’s hotel-motel tax collections would go toward funding the new stadium as has gone toward the Georgia Dome — 39.3 percent of a seven-cents-per-dollar tax. That averaged $17.8 million for each of the past three years. If a stadium is not built, what could that money be used for instead?

Under current law, it can be used only for a stadium that houses an NFL team and is built on property owned by a state authority, such as the GW-CCA. (Otherwise, the tax would end when the Georgia Dome bonds are paid off.) Using it for another purpose would require that the law be changed by the Georgia Legislature.

8. The current proposal calls for funding the public portion of the construction cost with $200 million in bonds backed by the hotel-motel tax, down from the original plan of $300 million. But since the percentage of the tax collections allocated to the stadium should produce more money than required for principal and interest payments, what would the rest be used for?

It would go toward maintenance, operation, repair and improvement of the stadium over time. If such costs exceed available hotel-motel tax funds, the Falcons would be responsible for the rest. But as a trade-off for putting $100 million more into the deal upfront than originally planned, the Falcons can expect substantial tax funds to be available later for such costs.

9. If the stadium costs $1 billion to build, how would the Falcons and other private sources come up with their $800 million portion?

The NFL would contribute up to $200 million, of which the Falcons probably would have to repay $50 million. Another large chunk, estimated at $100 million to $200 million by a GWC-CA-commissioned study, could be generated by the planned sale of personal seat licenses, which are one-time fees for the right to subsequently buy season tickets in a specific seat. Falcons president Rich McKay told the City Council on Wednesday that the team’s obligation would be at least $500 million after the NFL contribution and PSL sales. The team has indicated it plans to take on debt to build the stadium.

10. How much would fans be asked to pay for personal seat licenses?

The Falcons, who would set the prices, haven’t provided specifics. Recent PSL prices at other NFL stadiums have caused sticker shock among some Falcons fans: $2,000 to $150,000 depending on seat location at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, $1,000 to $25,000 at the New York Giants/ Jets’ stadium, and $2,000 to $80,000 at the San Francisco 49ers’ stadium now under construction. “Ours would be on a much smaller scale,” McKay told the City Council.