All bases are covered, as Atlanta prepares for its own Dome-coming

ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- Even now, with only beams, cables and an outer shell to suggest its future majesty, the Georgia Dome already casts a striking impression on the Atlanta skyline.

The hope among local officials here is that the nation's newest indoor playground will leave an equally indelible mark on the sporting world.


"We've got a lot of great plans for this place," said Khalil A. Johnson, general manager of the facility, located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, just across from the Omni arena and CNN Center.

Indeed, dome officials, in advance of the Atlanta-Philadelphia exhibition football game that will open the building next August, have already snared two of the world's biggest sporting events: the 1994 Super Bowl and the basketball and gymnastics competitions in the 1996 Summer Olympics.


They are also actively in the hunt for other big-ticket events, such as the NCAA Final Four and men's basketball regionals, the NBA All-Star Game, the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference basketball tournaments and bowl games, as well as major political and religious conventions, trade shows and rock concerts.

The $210 million dome, which will seat 70,500 for football and from 20,000-40,000 for other events, is also adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center, one of the country's busiest convention facilities.

Just as Maryland owns the new baseball park and the proposed football stadium in Baltimore, the state of Georgia owns the dome, and the facility is managed by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which has issued $200 million in industrial revenue bonds to cover construction.

The Maryland Stadium Authority already has taken notice of what is happening in Atlanta. Bruce Hoffman, the authority's executive director, said he toured the construction site and generally was impressed.

Hoffman said the authority has studied the cost of placing a dome on the proposed $150 million open-air, natural grass football stadium here, and is waiting for specific numbers to come back in about a month.

Hoffman said a roof would roughly add about $60-70 million to the stadium's cost, which, given the state's current deficit, makes it a tough sell.

"That's a lot, particularly in this day and age," said Hoffman. "It's an appealing concept, this dome, but the way this economy is going, it makes me nervous."

Hoffman said that if Baltimore reaches the short list of eligible cities for an NFL franchise next March, the authority might look more closely at ways to make a dome feasible, with particular emphasis on private financing that might help cover the cost of a roof.


In addition, Hoffman said state and city officials might be more amenable to a domed stadium if it can be thought of as a replacement for the Baltimore Arena as well as a site for ethnic festivals, and car and boat shows.

He said he was skeptical about a new stadium's use as a convention center, given its distance from the current facility.

"I learned enough about the convention business to know that to try to have some of the space almost three-quarters of a mile away isn't going to help you," said Hoffman.

In Atlanta, the proximity of the Georgia Dome, with its 100,000 square feet of space, to the convention center was crucial to the entire project. Officials planned for the facility to be domed to maximize its use, especially with the Braves, Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium's other principal tenant, getting their own ballpark, the Olympic stadium, after the games are completed.

"You can play football 10-12 times a year, and you may get a few other things, but what in the world do you do with the other dates?" said Johnson.

The roof added about $20 million to the Georgia Dome price tag, Johnson said. The authority, which has the Falcons as tenants HTC for 20 years, will lease 196 executive suites at an average cost of about $55,000 per year with a minimum 10-year commitment, making the building that much more cost efficient.


So far, 168 of those suites have been leased, and authority officials expect the stadium to be paid for in about 20 years.

"That [the suite leases] probably paid for the roof," said Johnson.

The Georgia Dome's genesis came in 1984, when state and city officials became concerned that the Falcons would flee Atlanta in the wake of the Colts' departure for Indianapolis. They began to address the need to replace Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, built in 1966.

A group of private investors formed the Georgia Stadium Corporation in October, 1987, and raised $55 million in private funds within three months.

The Georgia legislature appropriated $14 million for land acquisition in 1988 and local and state officials gave approval for a hike in local hotel and motel taxes to cover the state's portion of funding.

Construction began last June and the stadium is about 60 percent complete now, Johnson said, with installation of the fabric roof to begin this month.


Unlike the Metrodome in Minneapolis, which has an air-supported roof, and the Houston Astrodome, whose roof is a steel skeleton supporting hard acrylic sheets, the Georgia Dome's Teflon-coated fiberglass roof will be supported by steel-stranded cables.

"This is a hybrid that gives us more security than the air-supported domes, but also allows for a bright open environment," said Johnson.