Renovation a must to keep stadiums current

April 29, 2011

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by Randy Southerland, Contributing Writer

In Atlanta’s highly competitive sports market, stadiums and arenas age quickly and teams look for new facilities that can give them an edge in attracting fans and maximizing revenues.

Atlanta Falcons management is negotiating with the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which governs the Georgia Dome, on its need for an open-air stadium that could be built on a 28-acre section that currently includes a truck marshaling yard and a parking lot.

Opened in 1992 as the largest cable-supported domed stadium in the world, the Dome may seem relatively young, but no longer meets the needs of the city’s pro football franchise.

“It lacks a lot of the high-end amenities that allow the Falcons to generate some of the premium revenues that other NFL teams are generating and therefore they’re at a competitive disadvantage,” said Bernie Mullin, chairman and CEO of The Aspire Group, a sports consulting organization.

The proposed $700 million stadium would require the GWCC Authority to use its hotel and motel taxing authority to back approximately $350 million to $450 million in bonds, according to authority spokesman Mark Geiger.

“The rest would be financed by the Falcons,” he said.

In recent years, the NFL has awarded the Super Bowl to cities that have constructed new stadiums or expanded old ones. Atlanta, which has hosted two Super Bowls at the Georgia Dome, is unlikely to get another one until a new open-air stadium is built, Mullin said.

Newer buildings such as Philips Arena, completed in 1999 at a cost of $213.5 million, are also in need of renovation, said Mullin, the former president and CEO of Atlanta Spirit LLC, which owns the Hawks and Thrashers and Philips Arena.

“People might say a 10- or 11-year-old house was relatively new, but it doesn’t have 2 million people going through it every year and it’s not subject to massive technological changes,” he said.

The home to the NBA’s Hawks and the NHL Thrashers franchise, Phillips needs “anywhere between $30 to $50 million in reinvestment,” Mullin said.

Turner Field, home to the Atlanta Braves, has engaged in a continuous program of upgrading and adding new features to attract fans, he added. Turner Field was built to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1996 Olympic Games. It was modified and opened as Turner Field in 1997.

Teams need updated facilities to keep fans buying tickets and coming back. Attendance figures are primarily driven by how many tickets established fans buy during a season — not by attracting new fans, he added.

Both the Hawks and Thrashers have struggled with attendance in a highly competitive market. Along with four pro major sports teams and a host of smaller ones such as the pro soccer Atlanta Silverbacks, both The University of Georgia and Georgia Tech also draw many fans from the Atlanta area.

Georgia Tech has also launched a major building program that includes an 88,000-square-foot football practice center, along with a new basketball pavilion and tennis center. The $9 million Brock Football Indoor Practice Facility is taking shape on Rose Bowl Field, Tech’s current practice facility off of Fowler Street.

Construction of the $45 million McCamish Pavilion, Tech’s new basketball arena, is taking shape on 10th Street and Fowler near the Turner Broadcasting System Inc. facility. The 8,800-seat McCamish Pavilion will replace the Alexander Memorial Coliseum, long a fixture on the Tech campus. Its namesake, former Tech football coach William Alexander, will be honored with a garden near the new building.

While a start date has not been set for it, the tennis facility will be breaking ground in the near future, according to Wayne Hogan, Tech’s associate athletic director.

“We have a lead gift [from the Byers family] for that project and there has been a considerable amount of pre-planning and architectural work, but it’s less immediate,” he said.

Tech is still raising funds for the $8 million tennis facility, along with “value engineering” to shave costs from the project. When it is built, the facility is expected to expand from three to six indoor courts. It will also have a stadium for outdoor games and practice courts.




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