Digi-blog goes to Falcons' $1.5 billion potentially retractable roof stadium

The chief of communications for Falcons owner Arthur Blank emerged from the room, closed the door behind him and delivered the verdict.

"You can't go in there," Brett Jewkes said.

"Why not?"

"There's a lot security people in there. There's stuff they don't want you to see."

"Didn't you say the button's not even connected yet?"

"Well, yeah. But there's IP addresses everywhere. They're on all of the TV screens and they don't want you to see them. The hackers can get that."

(Now on the dark web: Falcons' video board.)

I went on my first tour of the Atlanta Falcons' Mercedes-Benz Atom-Splitting/Nuclear Fission Research Laboratory, Space Station And Hypothetically Retractable Roof Stadium on Tuesday.

We each were given construction vests and hard hats with stickers that read, "Valid throughout the 2017 season." Kidding. Not really.

I had only one goal Tuesday. That was to push the button. Or at least see the button. Or at least talk to somebody who has seen the button or has received security clearance to push the button to close the magical roof, which I'm assuming worked in the small scale version at Mattel Toys.

Alas, if there was a button, it probably would look like this:

Jewkes agreed to walk me down the hall from the press box to the Stadium Operations Center. The door was ajar. I peaked in and saw television screens. No Russians.

Alas, after being told I would not be allowed in the secret room, I was informed there really wasn't a button anyway. The hypothetically retractable roof would be opened and closed by the touch of a video screen. But it wasn't connected yet. This is sort of like putting together your kid's race car set at 2 a.m. and your wife asking, "Does the controller work?" and you responding, "The car is still 12 pieces!"

Assuming the race car set cost $1.5 billion. And you think, "I knew I should've bought the better one for $2 billion."

The stadium's roof is not fully operational. But more on that later in our tour. Here we go with a fully operational Digi-Blog.

It looks so perfect from the outside. New place on the left. Not-so-old-but-soon-to-be-obliterated place on the right. The Georgia Dome is going to be leveled for a parking lot and tailgating area. Falcons president Rich McKay made the future parking lot sound like the next botanical gardens. Nobody does parking lots like the Falcons. Then again, the Falcons also assured everybody that the new stadium roof would be operational by March. Then June. Then July. Now August. But still in 2017. Click.

This is the large falcon statue in front of the new stadium. It stands 41 feet tall and weighs 73,000 pounds. It doesn't move. Unlike the roof, it's not supposed to. Click.

We also were told we had to wear steel-toed shoes for the tour because the stadium was an active construction site. I don't own any steel-toed shoes so I showed up in hush puppies. But here's McKay. He wore $200 rich dude sneakers from Cole Haan. "Don't report me to OSHA," he said. Click.

This is Falcons communications assistant Caleigh Lentz. I'm showing her not just because she's very nice but as proof of the world's only pink construction vest. Click.

We are now inside the stadium near one of the main doors where the media will enter. Stadium general manager Scott Jenkins asks everybody to stay together for the tour and to please remember that we're in a construction zone. "I haven't lost a group yet. I don't want to start with the media," he said. That was the first lie. Click.

Here's one cool feature in the stadium: an entire wall of helmets representing Georgia high school football teams, with pictures of former stars from the state. Included (left to right): Fran Tarkenton, Herschel Walker, Cam Newton. They may want to have extra security near the Newton picture. Click.

I took this picture in the bowels of the stadium. It's one of the field-level clubs. Fans will be able to view players through the glass as they walk toward the field and the locker room. This is far safer then the set-up at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, where (potentially drunk and obnoxious) Cowboys fans in a field club bar are separated from Dallas players only by a velvet theater rope. Yeah. This is better. Click.

Here's a view from the press box, which can accommodate enough people to cover SEC and national championship games and most media members for a Super Bowl. It was such a nice press box that nobody found anything to complain about. So we left, walked outside and talked about how hot and humid it was. Click.

The Falcons originally wanted a grass field but determined there wouldn't be enough direct sunlight to allow it to grow. So the stadium will use FieldTurf, which is scheduled to be down by Aug. 5. There will be multiple layers under the turf. In order: rock for drainage, asphalt, Ray Edwards, shock pad, sand, Bruce Pickens, Aundray Bruce, Kyle Shanahan's fourth-quarter play sheet and rubber padding. Click.

Here's the Falcons' new locker room. Though it hasn't been used yet, this is often what the open locker room period looks like after a loss. Click.

This was the highlight of the tour. It brought together the media's two favorite words: "free" and "food." The first official Media Hog Call of the new stadium included a carving station, chicken sausages, panko-crusted chicken, macaroni and cheese, creamed spinach, roasted potatoes, pulled pork, deli sandwiches, a salad bar (pffft) and an ice cream sundae station.

The Falcons' ultimate plan is to make sportswriters so fat during that game that they will either pass out in a food coma or won't be able to fit into the elevator after the game, therefore preventing them from talking to players and asking annoying questions. Following his presentation, Brian Lapinskas, the stadium's director of operations and food services, was given a loud ovation. On a related note, I adopted him. Click.

This is the unbelievably impressive halo video board, which is ... wait for it ... fully operational. It is 58 feet tall and 1,100 feet around. McKay tells me that if you were to cut it in half and stand it up, the 1,100 feet would be taller than the Bank of America building. But all he really had to say was, "Hey Jeff, it works."

On a related note, that's Devonta Freeman on the video board. His image had no comment on contract talks. Click.

So yeah, the roof is not fully operational. What that means is stadium officials must close each of the eight pedals individually by eight workers who are standing a catwalks. It's a long process that can take hours.

I found it ironic and amusing that an hour after they started this process Tuesday, the video board suddenly looked like your television during a lightning storm.

Steve Cannon, CEO of the Falcons' parent company, now says the roof will not be fully "mechanized" -- Latin for working -- for an indefinite period. When the building opens, the roof will remain closed.

Cannon says the roof will work some time during the season. You can bank on that, assuming the bank is in South America. Maybe it will work by December, just before a hail storm, when they'll have to close it anyway.

The suits say they are not panicking.

McKay: "I think Arthur said it best six months ago about the timeline. We’re building this project for 30 to 50 years. Let's not concern ourselves with the first 30 days."

I like Rich. But I'm not sure what was funnier in that quote: His reference to "30 days" of a stadium's roof functionality that will have been delayed at least six months, or the reference to "30 to 50 years" as his projected lifespan for a sports facility in the city of Atlanta, where the motto is, "If it's a little dusty, knock it down."

There will be four events (two Falcons' exhibitions, two college football games) in the first 10 days of the building's opening (Aug. 26-Sept. 4). Then come two Atlanta United games and the Falcons-Green Bay game on Sunday night Sept 17.

An estimated 250,000 fans will pass through the doors in the first 10 days, 500,0000 in the first 23, 950,000 in the first 50.

McKay's not worried.

"A year from now I'm hoping we're not talking about opening and closing the roof any more," he said.

Will you have an automated secret test opening and closing?

"Oh no. We want to make that a public event."

Seriously? You won't test it in private before inviting the media to watch?

"Well, we might have some practice and keep it quiet."

So I was right?

"For once."

EARLIER: Dimitroff broke down on highway, but Falcons can avoid same

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About the Author

Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz
Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.