Georgia State football at Turner Field in ‘17 no issue, architects say

Georgia State University should have little trouble, architecturally speaking, making football happen at Turner Field in 2017.

The Panthers hope to begin play in the ballpark next season, and the university could do so with relatively minor modifications while it develops a more extensive football-only redesign, two architects on the original stadium design team told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Though little is known about the university’s ultimate plans or the potential cost, Georgia State President Mark Becker two years ago discussed reducing the Ted’s seating to about 30,000 from its current capacity of about 50,000. That concept involved removing part or all of the upper deck and eventually building new seating in what is now right field.

The Braves plan to exit Turner Field for their new Cobb County ballpark after this season, and Georgia State and its development partners plan to complete their purchase of the stadium and surrounding parking lots by Dec. 31. Georgia State and its development team plan a mixed-use community and southern expansion of the campus outside the stadium.

The combined $300 million redevelopment could transform the downtown university and further cement its efforts to create a traditional residential campus from what was historically a commuter college.

“I would say it certainly is doable to play football next season, but it would not be in the ultimate [football] configuration,” said Bill Johnson, design principal at HOK in Kansas City, and a key part of the design team for the original Centennial Olympic Stadium, which became Turner Field.

Randy Bredar, an architect and senior vice president at J.E. Dunn Construction who also was involved in the original design with another firm, said a football gridiron running north-south along the current third base line is likely the best orientation — matching the original track and field layout — and could be ready with relatively few modifications to the stadium.

“They could play football in it tomorrow,” Bredar said.

The Panthers, which since their inaugural 2010 season have played at an oversized Georgia Dome, have drawn an average of 14,157 fans in announced attendance in 38 home games.

The team moved to the Sun Belt Conference in college football’s top tier in 2013, and went to its first bowl game last year. But the Panthers have yet to record a winning season on the FBS level.

Becker and athletic director Charlie Cobb declined to comment for this story.

A person familiar with the plans who declined to speak on the record because the concepts are evolving and was not authorized to comment, said Turner Field would become a mixed-use facility with football occupying part of the stadium, and other parts possibly being leased back to development partner Carter for retail space.

Multipurpose stadiums, such as the former Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, have fallen out of favor. College football in Major League Baseball stadiums used to happen regularly, but it’s more of novelty now, such as the Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium.

The person familiar with the university’s thinking said that Georgia State doesn’t want its new football stadium to look like a baseball stadium.

In a recent interview with the AJC, Fortune Onwuzuruike, 21, the Georgia State student government president said the Turner Field purchase “is huge” for the school and its student body. He said the project will make the university “even more of a complete school.”

Karl Benson, Sun Belt Conference commissioner, said a dedicated stadium will help the football team, athletics department and the university fulfill their potential.

“When that stadium is in place, it will have the same type of impact that Georgia Tech’s on-campus stadium has had,” Benson said. “There’s certainly enough population and room in downtown Atlanta for both those stadiums to co-exist and both programs to co-exist.

“With that stadium I don’t see any reason why Georgia State football can’t have the same type of impact in the Atlanta sports environment,” he said.

Olympic vision

The original Centennial Olympic Stadium was designed from the outset to be converted into a new home for the Braves.

Portions of the northern bowl of seats were reused as part of the outfield seating at Turner Field, Johnson said. They could be moved and reused again, if needed, for a football configuration, he said.

Many Olympic venues become “white elephants” for host cities, Johnson said, and Atlanta determined not to have that happen.

“I think the point of using something like that twice was a revolutionary idea, but to use something three times is over the top,” said Johnson, who is also the lead designer of the Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the home of the University of Southern California Trojans since 1923, also played host to, among other things, the 1932 and 1984 Olympic Games, the former Los Angeles Raiders, two Super Bowls and a World Series. It will again be the temporary home of pro football with the return this year of the Rams.

‘The most expensive part’

Johnson said the Turner Field site had topographical challenges and as a result the stadium was designed for fans to enter the ballpark at multiple levels. That design proved efficient at moving fans around the ballpark and to amenities within the campus.

The corridors, ramps, staircases, escalators and fan amenities are among the most expensive components of the stadium and should remain, he said.

“The most expensive part, and the hardest to figure out, is how to get people to circulate through the building and getting them to amenities, and [Turner Field] has always done that well,” he said.

Bredar said the redesign will also have to consider alterations to improve sight lines for football.

Bredar, who along with Johnson did not have first-hand knowledge of Georgia State’s plans, said Georgia State also would be wise to preserve suites for greater revenue potential.

A full overhaul of the stadium would likely take place between seasons or stretch across multiple seasons.

“It’s not unusual for us as a contractor to renovate, expand and modify stadiums and have that work continue while a season is in play,” Bredar said.

Staff writer Janel Davis contributed to this report.

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