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At stadium groundbreaking, Blank lobbies for a Super Bowl

The Atlanta Falcons held a glitzy groundbreaking ceremony for their new downtown stadium Monday night, and team owner Arthur Blank used the occasion — and a beautiful May evening — to lobby for a Super Bowl.

“Welcome to a typical evening in Atlanta,” Blank said at the outdoor event. “So for those of my NFL partners who will one day vote for a Super Bowl, this is normal weather in Atlanta — even in February.”

In an interview after the ceremony, Blank reiterated what he first said a year ago: that he hopes Atlanta will host the Super Bowl in 2019, the first year under NFL rules that the new retractable-roof stadium would be eligible to serve as the site of the mega-event.

“2019 is our hope,” Blank said. “That’s our aspiration, and we’ll see where that takes us, but that’s our hope.”

Underscoring Atlanta’s aspiration, a plane circled the ceremony, pulling a banner that read: “Break Ground on Super Bowl Too.”

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NFL owners will choose the site of the 2018 Super Bowl at a meeting in Atlanta on Tuesday, with Minneapolis, Indianapolis and New Orleans the bidders. Atlanta was not eligible to bid for the 2018 event because the NFL requires a stadium to be open at least two football seasons before it hosts a Super Bowl. The new Falcons stadium is scheduled to open in 2017, making the 2019 Super Bowl the first for which it could be considered.

“We’re in queue. There will be other cities and stadiums in queue as well. It’ll be very competitive,” Blank said. “This is a competitive world we’re living in, but this stadium and this great city, with the hospitality and the restaurants and the hotels it has, will give us an opportunity to compete at the highest level.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said the new stadium will place Atlanta on “the leading edge” of the competition for mega-events such as the Super Bowl.

“What this stadium does is differentiate us from having a 20-year-old facility, like many cities do in the United States of America, rather than having one of the best facilities in the world,” Reed said.

Atlanta has hosted the Super Bowl twice, in 1994 and 2000, the second marred by an ice storm.

Hundreds of invited guests gathered in Georgia International Plaza — an area between the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena — for Monday night’s purely ceremonial event. It couldn’t be held on the actual site of the new stadium, just south of the Georgia Dome, because work began there months ago.

The stadium, Blank told the gathering, “will be iconic in every sense of the word. With the unique design, the 360-degree 60-foot-high video board, the retractable roof, the window to the city (and) the adaptability to many other events, our goal is for this building to be a landmark to the city and the state.”

Blank, Reed, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber and other dignitaries shoveled ceremonial dirt set up in front of a stage. A pyrotechnic display marked the moment, and laser lights beckoned from the new stadium site. Guests were given 3-D glasses to view a video of the new stadium.

“Leave it up to Arthur Blank to have the first groundbreaking ceremony in prime time,” Goodell said.

A couple other notes from the ceremony:

  • The first sporting event in the stadium in 2017 is slated to be the home opener of Atlanta’s new MLS team. While the stadium typically will have a seating configuration of 29,000 for MLS, Garber said he hopes the opening game will produce a league-record crowd of 71,000-plus.
  • Reed welcomed Goodell to Atlanta and added, “I’d like to extend an open invitation for him to come back anytime he’d like — especially if he wants to announce we’re going to (host) the Super Bowl.”

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