Architects get glimpse of stadium plan

A new Atlanta Falcons stadium should seat 80,000 people “for marquee events such as Super Bowls” but should “feel right-sized” for smaller events, such as Major League Soccer games. It should have fewer suites, more club seats and about 200,000 more square feet of space than the Georgia Dome.

Those are among preliminary specifications outlined in a document issued this week to solicit applications from architects interested in designing the proposed retractable-roof stadium.

The downtown stadium should be “a distinctly iconic landmark for the city of Atlanta and the state of Georgia,” according to the request for qualifications (RFQ) issued by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Falcons.

The goal is to hire an architectural firm within about 90 days, said Richard Sawyer, working for the GWCCA as the project’s procurement director. The stadium would be built on the Congress Center campus. The architect will be jointly chosen by the GWCCA and the Falcons.

The stadium project moved forward Monday when the GWCCA board approved a nonbinding “term sheet,” which is the basic framework of a deal with the Falcons. Still, major hurdles remain.

The GWCCA and the Falcons plan to try to complete a more definitive memorandum of understanding by mid-January. Early next year the Georgia Legislature is expected to decide whether to increase the GWCCA’s debt ceiling, a necessary step for the deal to go through. The deal also would require approval from the Atlanta City Council and Fulton County Commission.

Despite those remaining hurdles, the GWCCA and the Falcons began the task of choosing a lead architect in an effort to keep the stadium on track for a possible 2017 opening.

“We’re going to interview a number of great architects,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. “I don’t have any particular design in mind at this point, other than to say design will be very, very important. We’re going to pick some of the best brains all over the world.”

The 30-page request for qualifications, which asks architectural firms to provide accounts of their resources, relevant experience and past performance, provides an early glimpse into the basics of the building, although Falcons and GWCCA officials point out that just about anything could change during the design process.

The new stadium is envisioned to have about 1.8 million square feet of space, according to the RFQ, compared to the Georgia Dome’s 1.6 million on all levels.

It should have permanent seating for 66,000 to 72,000 spectators at NFL games but should be designed so that capacity can expand to 80,000 for mega-events, according to the document. The Georgia Dome seats 71,250.

The new facility is envisioned to have about 10,000 club seats, up from the Dome’s current 5,174, and about 120 suites, down from the Dome’s 173. Club seats come with access to amenities, such as lounge areas. The Dome’s inventory of suites does not sell out annually, and a smaller number could drive demand and pricing power.

Some of the club seats and suites might move from their traditional location in the middle bowl. The RFQ says field level suites “should be considered,” including 10 20-person suites in each end zone.

The document says the design should consider a plaza space adjacent to the main entrance for tailgating, hospitality, entertainment and sponsorship activation. It says a team store should be included at street level, accessible from inside and outside the stadium. And it makes provisions for events other than football.

The field dimensions should meet FIFA World Cup standards, according to the RFQ. And, while the Falcons would be the stadium’s lead tenant, architects are told that a Major League Soccer team could be a secondary tenant. The document even lists MLS administrative offices among the considerations.

Atlanta doesn’t have an MLS franchise, but the Falcons have expressed interest, dating back about five years, in bringing one here.

“We have begun to look at MLS again, how would we attract (a team) … and how it would fit,” Falcons president Rich McKay said.

McKay said the stadium’s design will not mirror any other’s.

“We won’t be looking for you to be able to say, ‘Boy, that reminds me of…,’” McKay said. “We’re hoping you can’t (complete that sentence).”

From the architects submitting statements of qualifications, three to five finalists will be chosen by Jan. 9. After a GWCCA/Falcons committee receives more information from and interviews those firms, an “apparent awardee” will be chosen, Sawyer said. Negotiations then will be conducted to see if an agreement on terms can be reached with that firm before moving to the next choice if necessary.

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