The Georgia World Congress Center Authority governing board agreed Tuesday to a maximum $35 million design fee for 360 Architecture, which is based in Kansas City, Mo. The firm was one of five finalists and had previously been announced as the favorite to win the contract. The group of architects previously designed the new stadium shared by the NFL’s New York Jets and the New York Giants.
The stadium will be built with $200 million from public bonds, with the rest coming from Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. The city of Atlanta will pay off the bonds using the city’s hotel-motel tax revenue, the same stream of money that pays the debt for the current Georgia Dome. The dome, which opened in 1992, will be demolished when the new stadium opens. Plans call for the Falcons to open the 2017 season in the new structure.
The World Congress Center Authority will own the new stadium, as it does the dome. But Blank will have considerably more control over operations and revenues to go along with his steeper financial obligations. The Georgia Dome was built entirely with public money.
The preferred site for the new facility is immediately south of the existing dome on Northside Drive. But that depends on the authority being able to buy two neighboring churches. If they don’t sell, the secondary site is several blocks away near the intersection of Northside and Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard. The secondary site would still be along the edge of downtown, but would be farther from the current tourism center that includes the CNN Center, Phillips Arena, Centennial Olympic Park and a MARTA transit station.
Frank Poe, executive director of the World Congress Center Authority, said his agency must secure the necessary property “within the next 60 days or so” or select the secondary site. The board also will be deciding on final designs in the coming months.
Bill Johnson, 360’s top architect, showed two design concepts to the board before the final vote at Tuesday’s board meeting. Johnson described both concepts as “intimate” seating arrangements that would allow flexibility to satisfy the Falcons and other clients. Blank initially pushed for a new stadium that would allow the Falcons to play in open air, but Poe’s agency needs a roof to continue to host events like college basketball’s Final Four.
One design calls for an ocular roof opening — basically a circular pattern of roof pieces that would open from the center. At its widest, the opening would be larger than the football field below. That design also includes a ring of video boards at the roof level around the opening, giving each spectator a straight-on view of live action, scores and advertisements.
The other design calls for a pitched roof that would separate at the peak. That concept also calls for the ability to open the sides of the structure, allowing for a complete open-air stadium feel along concourses beneath seating sections.
The firm will spend the coming weeks with Falcons and state representatives to craft more detailed plans. Poe said he expects the board to vote on a conceptual design in June, with more detailed schematics to be completed this fall.
Both concepts prioritize seating along the sidelines, rather than the end zones. And Johnson said the firm envisions more community seating amenities, like club sections, that still allow easy access to game action. Traditional suites, he said, are becoming less popular among fans and business interests who are willing to pay top dollar for events.