Plans in works to ‘decommission’ the Dome

Aerial view of ongoing construction of Falcons' new stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in downtown Atlanta.
Aerial view of ongoing construction of Falcons' new stadium, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in downtown Atlanta.

A recently disclosed three-month delay in opening Mercedes-Benz Stadium apparently won’t extend the use of the Georgia Dome.

The plan remains to close the Dome to events in March 2017, even though the new Falcons stadium’s targeted completion date has been pushed back to June 1, 2017, according to Frank Poe, executive director of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the state agency that operates the Georgia Dome.

“It doesn’t affect anything that we’re working on as far as decommissioning of the Dome,” Poe said of the construction delay. “… By March 1 (2017), our plan is to really not have events in the Dome after that.”

Significant additional delays, which the Falcons have said they don’t expect at this point, obviously could alter that plan.

The Georgia Dome, which opened in 1992 and has hosted the Super Bowl twice, the Final Four three times and Olympics basketball and gymnastics in 1996, will have a busy finish.

The Falcons will play their 25th season there this year. The SEC Championship football game will be played there for the 23rd time Dec. 3. The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl will be played there for the 25th time Dec. 31 in what will be the highest-stakes game in the bowl’s history — a College Football Playoff semifinal.

The last publicly ticketed event currently scheduled in the Georgia Dome is Supercross motorcycle racing Feb. 25, 2017, Dome spokesman Jason Kirksey said.

After that, Poe said, the process toward demolishing the state-owned Dome will unfold, starting with a 60-day window for the GWCCA to remove all items it wants to re-use elsewhere on the Congress Center campus.

The Georgia Dome site eventually will be converted to parking for the new stadium, with space carved out for  a new convention hotel. The $1.4 billion-plus Mercedes-Benz Stadium is under construction immediately south of the Dome.

“We’re working with the Falcons and their construction team on the demolition schedule,” Poe said.

Bill Darden, the stadium project executive for the Falcons, said that schedule has “many moving parts” and remains a work in progress.

“We’re highly optimistic that we’ll be able to get the Dome down and all the debris removed in 2017, hopefully early fourth quarter of ’17,” Darden said. “But in no event would it go past very early in 2018.”

He said demolishing the Dome and clearing the site probably will take five to six months.

For Falcons fans, the new parking on the site isn’t expected to become available until the 2018 season, slated to be the team’s second in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Three methods of demolishing the Dome are being considered.

“One is what most people (in the public) probably think we’re going to do, which is just implode it,” Darden said. “Another consideration is to mechanically take it down, which is sort of the older-fashion way … with cranes or possibly wrecking ball, things of that nature. And we’re also looking at a hybrid, which is imploding part of the building, the roof … and after that take the rest of the building down mechanically.

“All three methodologies are being evaluated for time, for cost, considering we have a brand-new building that will be standing right next door to it, considering the MARTA tracks that are so close. There are pros and cons of all, and so we’re just trying to find the sweet spot.”

A development agreement between the Falcons and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, signed in February 2014, stated the Dome will be "available for demolition" no earlier than the "substantial completion date" of the new stadium. The document defined substantial completion as the point at which the stadium can be used for its intended purpose and pegged that date as March 1, 2017. But Falcons owner Arthur Blank said earlier this month it has been pushed back to June 1, 2017, because of design delays related to the steel structure for the retractable roof.

If the new target date is achieved, the stadium would still open in time for the Falcons’ 2017 season. But the delay means Blank’s new MLS team, Atlanta United, won’t have use of its home stadium for the first three months of its inaugural season.

Blank indicated the soccer team will play on the road until the stadium is ready, although he left open the possibility of arranging a temporary alternate home venue if necessary.

Asked if the Georgia Dome could be an option for soccer in March through May 2017, Poe said no because “it will be out of commission” as preparations begin for demolition.

“It doesn’t make practical sense and … would be extremely costly to have events going on once you start that process of shutting things down,” Poe said.

Although the GWCCA operates the Dome, the Falcons will operate the new stadium.

The GWCCA board this past week approved a subtle change that reflects the Dome’s dwindling time. In the past, Dome staff has handled single-game suite sales for non-Falcons events. This year, the Falcons will handle those sales on a commission basis, freeing the Dome from having to fill open positions in that area.

The arrangement made more sense, Poe told the board, than hiring and training new employees “as we look at winding down the Dome operations.”

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