Officials hire firm to weigh next steps for Georgia Dome

The next step in determining the future of the Georgia Dome -- including whether the need exists for a new facility -- could come in about four to six months.

The Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the state organization that oversees the football arena, agreed Tuesday to pay Kansas City-based Populous architects $145,000 to propose a master plan for the Dome. The company's conclusions could be available as early as early spring.

The decision to study the Dome's future comes on the heels of continued speculation that the Atlanta Falcons, who have called the stadium home since it was completed in 1992, could possibly move away from downtown.

The most recent relocation idea floated -- building a stadium at the site of the shuttered General Motors plant near I-285 -- died last week when the Doraville City Council unanimously rejected a conceptual plan pushed by DeKalb County officials.

"The county seems to think a stadium would be a wonderful thing," Doraville Mayor Ray Jenkins told the City Council. "Our citizens overwhelmingly are not for that."

Dan Graveline, executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center, told authority board members Tuesday that the Populous study would look at the merits of renovating the current Dome or building a new stadium.

Populous has already looked at the Dome's future in an overall master plan study it conducted for the GWCCA last year that weighed the entire campus, including the construction of a new wing for the convention center.

But this study would focus more intently on the Dome to give the authority and the Falcons a more complete look at the building's tangibles. It will take into consideration building a new dome, an open-air arena or having a retractable roof. It also will look at the cost of gutting the current building and starting over.

"What would it take to take the current stadium down to its skeleton, down to the bones and rebuild it?" Graveline asked.

The Dome is important to the GWCC campus. While the convention center has struggled during the recession -- the facility is about $1.8 million in the hole so far this fiscal year -- the Dome has made a profit of about $18 million. That number could be higher if officials could improve sales of the pricey suite and club seats, which have been lagging as corporations and big spenders cut back.

The study could include Dome officials taking a trip to check out some of the league's newest stadiums, including the Dallas Cowboys' new behemoth.

"For $1.3 billion, one would hope that that's the best damn stadium out there or you're doing something wrong," Graveline said.