Falcons strike $35M deal with stadium architecture firm

Falcons, GWCCA hire architect for $35 million

A Kansas City-based architecture firm will be paid up to $35 million to design Atlanta’s new retractable-roof stadium.

The contract with 360 Architecture, negotiated by the Falcons and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, was approved unanimously Tuesday by the GWCCA board and signed immediately after the vote.

It calls for the firm, which has designed sports facilities around the world, to be paid a fixed fee of $32.5 million, plus up to $2.5 million for expenses. That is similar to a reported $34 million fee a different architecture firm negotiated last year to design a new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

» MORE INFORMATION: 10 questions, and answers, about Falcons stadium

The fixed fee represents 4.6 percent of the $700 million budgeted for the Atlanta stadium’s hard construction costs. Other expenses — including architectural, engineering and legal fees, property acquisition, infrastructure improvements — are projected to push the total price into the range of $948 million to $1.03 billion, according to studies.

The architectural contract states that work is to begin immediately on conceptual designs and places a May 27 deadline on completing that preliminary phase of the process.

The agreement also stipulates that the lead architect will bring in other firms to work on various aspects of the project and will “take efforts” to contribute to the Falcons meeting their goal of at least 31 percent participation by women- and minority-owned businesses in design and construction.

The GWCCA board approved the contract after a presentation from 360 Architecture senior principal Bill Johnson, who showed two strikingly different concepts of how the stadium could be designed. He emphasized that neither was intended as a proposed design but as an insight into how the firm will approach the creative task.

“I do think there is a real opportunity to create an icon for the city and the state,” Johnson said. “There is no reason these buildings can’t be beautiful and sculptural and fully integrated (into their surroundings).”

One concept featured a geometric roof design in which a series of panels would open directly above the football field. The other featured a larger roof opening, much glass and no upper-level end-zone seats so that the stadium would have a dramatic view of the Atlanta skyline. Both concepts were prepared without input from the Falcons or the GWCCA.

“When we actually start the process, the first thing we have to determine is how open or how closed (the stadium will be),” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t preclude anything at this point. I think we might have a combination of these ideas or maybe another idea we haven’t seen that might give you the best of both.”

Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay said the team and the GWCCA were drawn to 360 Architecture, one of 10 firms to apply for the job as lead architect, by “the process they went through to create the two concepts. That led to two very unique designs with some really neat elements to them. I think that process … could produce some really cool results for Atlanta.”

The firm’s highest-profile project is MetLife Stadium, home of New York’s two NFL teams, the Giants and the Jets. The firm also has designed facilities ranging from soccer stadiums in Iraq to a basketball arena at Auburn University.

McKay said the Atlanta stadium’s ultimate design must be iconic on the outside and a “game changer with respect to the fan experience” on the inside.

The stadium is slated to open in 2017. Bonds backed by Atlanta’s hotel-motel tax will pay $200 million of the cost of building it, with the rest paid by the Falcons, the NFL and personal seat license sales. Additional hotel-motel tax funds will go toward financing, maintaining and operating the stadium over 30 years.

The site preferred by the Falcons and the GWCCA is immediately south of the Georgia Dome but requires acquisition of property, including two churches. If the property is not acquired by Aug. 1, the plan is to turn to an alternate site half a mile north of the Dome. Johnson said he is comfortable with either site.

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