Better stadium planning needed in Atlanta

sports@macon.comDecember 11, 2012 

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank wants a new stadium for his team. The wheels are now in motion to build a new retractable roof stadium right next the current location of the Georgia Dome.

Is this really needed? Well, if you believe Blank, it is. He wants to keep up with the other teams in the NFL that are getting new facilities. See the Dallas Cowboys for the model. Jerry Jones built a palace near Dallas, and now every other owner in the league wants his own big toy to call home.

I have four issues with a new facility.

First, I’m not one who believes the current Georgia Dome is that bad. Sure, it could be better. It is 20 years old. But it’s not like this place is Henderson Stadium in Macon. It’s a very nice facility. I understand how in 10 years, if plans aren’t made now, it will be viewed as an old building, but maybe they simply do need to wait.

Blank wants more suites in a new facility, but the Falcons can’t sell out the current number of suites they have now. If you go, look around to see how empty some of those suites are. So why build something that with more suites when you can’t even sell out the ones you have?

Money is another issue. Something smells fishy about the financial arrangements. I understand how the hotel/motel tax will pay for part of it, and that puts it on visitors and not residents of Atlanta. But it seems the state, which is not swimming in cash, will get stuck with a big check at the end of the day for some of the infrastructure around the new dome.

And we all know the area around the Dome needs help.

The biggest problem is, in fact, the area. It’s not a safety issue, but people don’t always want to fight the traffic. The Georgia Dome was not planned well in the first place. I know it’s tough for any downtown stadium to be easy to get in and out of, but I would bet more people probably try to leave early to beat the traffic in Atlanta than in other NFL cities.

Some believe the Falcons, and for that matter the Braves too, should just find a huge piece of land in North Atlanta and build a new building that will be easier to get to, compared to going downtown. But as someone who lives in Middle Georgia, I’m not for that at all.

Yes, driving in downtown Atlanta can be a headache, and those of us coming from the south side might have an easier time than those coming from the north end. But Blank must make sure those fans in the other areas of Georgia can get to the games, and putting it north of the city would make it difficult.

But will a new stadium, in the same area as the current one, be easier to get to? Can the engineers develop an easier way to make it where no one will hesitate to go because of how long it might take to walk to the new facility, or how long it will take to get out of there?

Why don’t they just put a retractable roof and the current facility and then spend the rest of the money to help the area, so it is easier to get in and out of there? That seems like a better option.

Blank wants his team to double in value, and that’s evidently what happens when new stadiums are built. Who can blame anyone for wanting to do that? But it’s not like Blank is doing this to sell the team anytime soon. He’s 70, but that doesn’t really matter.

NFL owners don’t sell the team when they get old. Ralph Wilson, the owner of the Buffalo Bills, is 94 years old. Bud Adams, the Tennessee Titans’ owner, is 89. Blank’s a baby compared to those guys.

This is just about keeping up with everybody else. It’s like being in a neighborhood where everyone around you has added a nice deck in the backyard. Blank just wants to make sure his property value doesn’t go down if he doesn’t have one, too.

Let’s just hope they do this right, and that’s where my skepticism comes into play. I’m just not certain in that crowded area of downtown Atlanta they can make it happen. But, like it or not, the Falcons will get their new home.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill on Twitter@yahoo.com.

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