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High hopes for new high-tech Atlanta stadium despite delays
By JONATHAN LANDRUM Jr.
ATLANTA (AP) Several high-profile failures have plagued Atlanta's reputation on a national stage over the years: unpreparedness for ice and snow storms, a recent highway collapse and subsequent shutdown from a fire, and chronic traffic and public transportation woes.
Now, the city's new $1.5 billion stadium - touted as a state-of-the-art facility that can help transform downtown - is facing construction setbacks with its key feature, a retractable roof that will open and close like a camera lens.
Stadium officials gave The Associated Press a recent tour for an exclusive story on Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Even though it's behind schedule, officials and some residents hope the stadium can turn around Atlanta's history of public misfortunes in infrastructure and projects. It will be home to the Atlanta Falcons and United, the city's professional football and soccer teams. It will also host SEC championship football games for the next 11 years along with the College Football Playoff National Championship next year, 2019's Super Bowl and the NCAA men's Final Four in 2020.
The stadium was originally set to open in March, but that's been pushed back three times: first to June 1, then July 30, and now August. Stadium general manager Scott Jenkins says that will be in time for the Falcons to host the Arizona Cardinals in the first preseason game at home on Aug. 26.
The building is more than 90 percent done, Jenkins said. The city committed to providing $200 million from hotel tax revenue, with the team picking up the rest.
Rapper and Atlanta native T.I. also took the tour, along with his 12-year-old son. T.I. says the stadium could "help breathe new life into the city," and he was "amazed by the architecture, the interior design, and the intricate details of artwork and LED screens."
Here are some of the stadium's key features:
The challenge with the retractable roof has been installing the eight triangular steel petals that would enable it to retract and open like a camera lens. Water-tight seals are being installed on the petals, then it'll take eight weeks to place fluorine-based plastic (ETFE) on them, a spokeswoman said. In early June, workers will bring the petals together for proper alignment with the help of a gigantic crawler crane.
This area is just outside the stadium's doors, with food trucks, live music and a fan vehicle experience on game days. A huge stainless steel sculpture of a falcon - 73,000 pounds and with a 70-foot wingspan - is perched on a bronze-colored football.
After the Falcons' former home the Georgia Dome is demolished at the end of summer, team owner Arthur Blank wants to replace the 24-year-old stadium with a 13-acre park. The greenspace would be used on game days as a tailgating area and parking lot for about 850 cars, according to Mike Gomes, who's in charge of "fan experience" at the Arthur M. Blank Group. Gomes said the area will host concerts and festivals: "We don't want this to be just blacktop asphalt for 365 days." A 35-foot high mirrored sculpture of a soccer ball that will sit by the north entrance can be viewed from the greenspace area.
The largest is the 360-degree, 63,000-square-foot "halo board" - named for its shape. It will sit high in the stadium, showing live game play, replays, and images of players during breaks. Work to build "the halo" will continue through July. Also, a 100-foot-tall video board will function as a noise meter and advertise products - officials compare it to the massive Times Square digital screens in New York.
Stadium seats will come in at 21 inches wide, compared with 19 at the Georgia Dome. Officials say this will make fans more comfortable.
Food and beverage pricing for all stadium events will start with $2 hotdogs, pretzels, popcorn and soft drinks with refills. There will be no stadium markups for all restaurants including Chick-fil-A, Kevin Gillespie's Gamechanger and King of Pops.
The stadium is ready to adjust the seat capacity for any event. Here's a partial breakdown: Falcons, 71,000; Super Bowl and SEC Championship football, 75,000; Final Four college basketball, 83,000; United soccer games, 40,000.
From a distance, the Benz stadium looks substantially bigger than the Georgia Dome. But that's not quite the case. Jenkins says the Benz stadium is 2 million square feet compared with the Dome's 1.6 million. He says that's because the Dome sits deeper into ground and the Benz stadium has a higher field level.
The triangular, translucent plastic material walls spanning from the floor to almost the ceiling will provide natural light inside the stadium and a view of Atlanta's skyline. As T.I. stood inside on the 300 level, the rapper said, "I've never seen Atlanta look quite like this."
The 100 Yard Club on the 300 level is a bar the length of the field, with yard markers on the floor aligning with the real thing. There also will be a 12,000-square-foot all-inclusive private club called the AMG Lounge and artwork by 53 artists throughout the stadium.
Follow Jonathan Landrum Jr. on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MrLandrum31 .
Updated May 18, 2017