Former Dome GM: There’s zero need for a new stadium

Khalil Johnson was the Georgia Dome’s general manager when it opened, so he’s a bit partial to the place. No longer affiliated with the Dome — he retired as the Georgia World Congress Center’s chief operating officer last summer — he remains one of the most respected men in his industry. And here’s what he thinks of the Falcons’ desire to build an open-air stadium where (or near) the Dome sits: Not much.

“I love football and I love the Falcons,” Johnson said. “If they need and desire a new stadium, let the owner build it himself. In this current situation, to use tax dollars isn’t viable.”

Also this: “They’re having discussions of whether [an open-air stadium would cost] less than half a billion or more than half a billion. At the same time we’re closing schools, we’ve got transportation issues and we need to figure out Grady [Hospital] … It’s not a sports question. It’s an economic issue. There are a lot more pressing needs.”

Arthur Blank bought the Falcons in 2002, a decade after the Dome opened, and has been persistent in his desire that the building be updated. Johnson worked to placate the owner but knew the day would come when Blank would want a new building.

Said Johnson, who now works out of Douglasville as a consultant regarding events and venues: “What’s the pressing need? More money for the ownership. I don’t know how that lines up with what the public wants … I just question whether the public needs to give more when most of the benefits will go to a private owner.”

About the Dome, Johnson said: “It may not be a great building but it’s a damn good building. And improvements can be made … The bones of Georgia Dome are good. Ask anybody in the business, and they’ll tell you that. It would make more economic sense to improve the Georgia Dome.”

The Falcons’ desire for an open-air stadium — one without a retractable roof, which team president Rich McKay told the AJC would be too expensive — would seem at odds with the Dome’s charter. The Falcons believe an open-air stadium would help Atlanta’s chances of playing host to games in soccer’s World Cup in 2018 or 2022, but the Dome has already staged two NCAA Final Fours and is ticketed for another in 2013.

And what of the ACC and SEC basketball tournaments, both of which have been played beneath the Dome’s roof? What of the SEC football championship and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, each held between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day?

“I don’t think the Falcons care much about basketball games,” Johnson said. As for college football: “The [SEC] tried [playing outdoors] in Birmingham. Didn’t work. Roy Kramer [then the SEC commissioner] came to us and said, ‘I want a stadium with a roof on it.’ And what was the name for the Peach Bowl before it moved indoors? ‘Weather-plagued.’ ”

Would it be possible to build an open-air stadium next to the Dome? Said Johnson: “It makes no sense to me. We know how tight that campus is — you’ve got the GWCC, Philips Arena, a fully functional arena and a park jammed into 220 acres.”

Johnson also questions whether the public would benefit from a new stadium. “People would have to be prepared for higher ticket prices, higher food and beverage prices, higher parking and PSLs [personal seat licenses, which confer the right to buy a ticket].”

Does Atlanta really need a new stadium?

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But wouldn’t much of the money for a new stadium come, as has been the case with the Dome, from a hotel tax? And doesn’t the hotel tax affect non-Atlantans?

“The Dome gets $20 million a year from the hotel tax,” Johnson said. “What would $20 million do for Atlanta schools or for health care? And the World Congress Center is sitting there aging with no significant resources. Wouldn’t it be sensible to put that money into the Congress Center, which has been the driver for the convention business in Atlanta?”

There’s also this: “The Dome is almost paid off, which means that [hotel tax] money could be put to other use. Why plant a tree, watch it grow and then, when it’s almost grown, cut it down because you see a tree you like better?”

Isn’t there a risk that if the Falcons don’t get what they want downtown, they’ll move? “If Doraville wants to build a stadium, let them take a shot at it,” Johnson said. “But I don’t think the dollars add up. There’s nowhere to move. People aren’t sitting around with half a billion dollars.”

Johnson’s closing argument: “If Atlanta can’t pay for a new stadium, who can? And is there really a need? Again, we’re down to the question of wants versus needs.”

259 comments Add your comment

chin music

May 21st, 2010
10:23 am

“…we’re down to the question of wants versus needs.”

exactly. this isn’t the appropriate time to cater to wants.

D B Cooper

May 21st, 2010
10:24 am

surely a retractable fabric type roof could be put on the existing dome. has an engineering study been done on that?

Denver Bird

May 21st, 2010
10:25 am

if they try to gouge me with a PSL, they’ll lose me as a season-ticket holder. pure greed.

i like the ga dome

May 21st, 2010
10:25 am

first. keep the dome as is! maybe ban philly fans…

Ken Myers

May 21st, 2010
10:27 am

If Mr Blank and the Falcons want a new stadium, let them build it themselves with their own money. As long as the Georgia Dome is normally maintained every year, and not let things get ahead of them, it should last for quite a few more years.

nola atl fan

May 21st, 2010
10:28 am

mark – what is your take on this? read the whole article waiting on that great bradley wit to pull it all together? As much as I love watching football outdoors, I like having SEC title games, bowl games (and remember Gary S and the boys stil want in a BCS game or at least a latter round if a playoff ever happens), etc… I say either keep a dome or at least retractable roof….

A.D.

May 21st, 2010
10:28 am

Craig

May 21st, 2010
10:29 am

As a Falcons season ticket holder I sleep and breathe the Falcons. I see no need however for a new stadium. The GA Dome is far from falling apart, it was just given a makeover (as DL3 pointed out yesterday) and unless they are going to move it to more northern Atlanta (closer to Gwinnett, for my own personal benefit) then I think it would be a waste of money at this time. Especially with schools closing, didnt we close almost all of the Georgia’s trauma centers? And personal seat licenses? Who can afford those right now? A new stadium would almost certainly cost me my season tickets. I dont think that is what Mr Blank is looking for. (he’s listening, I hope)

PMC

May 21st, 2010
10:29 am

People are getting a little too bent out of shape too early over this. It’s too early. The Falcons simply stated what they want. Arthur Blank has sunk a ton of money into the facility in the last 2 years and he still has one of if not the worst lease in the league. The facility itself isn’t all that bad. Parts of it are showing it’s age and parts of it have been retrofit. It would be nice for it to have a new retractable roof but that won’t fix the dismal parking arangements and fantastically awful tailgating situation. The city doesn’t need to be paying for a new stadium and it would serve the Falcons better if they could make all the money for owning thier facility. If they want it downtown though in this ridiculously poorly planned city they are going to have to make compromises.

Again though… this is so early it’s not worth getting upset over.

ugainuvacountry

May 21st, 2010
10:31 am

The voice of reason speaks….

There is NO reason for taxpayers to pay for this “Luxury”…

Just sayin’

Mark Bradley

May 21st, 2010
10:32 am

My take is pretty much like Mr. Johnson’s. But he said it much better than I would have.

Lowcountry Bulldawg

May 21st, 2010
10:33 am

Khalil Johnson should run for office. We could use a little rational thinking up in Washington right about now. My hats off to him for telling it like it needs to be said.

Nativebird

May 21st, 2010
10:34 am

keep the dome, Falcons, it is SO versatile. yeah, I like outdoor football too. but that’s not enough.

Sonny Clusters

May 21st, 2010
10:39 am

We was in the Dome for our state champion game and we was very pleased to win in that big dome and be able to look up to the sky and see those rusty rivets and know everything was allright in this world and we was state championship. As far as Dairy Queens go, there needs to be some DQs closer to the Dome and maybe even one inside the dome for celebrations when somebody wins something.

Herschel Talker

May 21st, 2010
10:39 am

MB:

Completely agree. This is a joke that people think we need a new stadium. In the middle of the second Great Depression, let’s go build a new stadium because our 20 year old one is “outdated.” What a joke. Do you think people are stopping and looking around enough before making opinions such as building multimillion dollar new stadiums? What a bunch of clowns.

HT

Dawgdad

May 21st, 2010
10:41 am

Johnson is absolutely correct, the Dome is a wonderful stadium. We are too focused on what’s new in this world. The Falcons had an open air stadium in Atlanta Fulton Co, there only beef was that the Braves made all the parking money. When the Braves left we could have made it into a wonderful outdoor facility devoted only to Football, but that was never considered. Knock it down quick and build something new was the hue and cry. That stadium could have served us well for a multitude of events. What did we benefit by tearing it down, we gained a few parking spots.

Arthur needs to shut up about the stadium and use some of his money to buy the Braves if he loves Atlanta as he claims. The Dome should serve his football team for 20 more years, before it is remodeled. Once the Falcons contract with the city expires they should insist on a long term renewal or let the complainers move on. Being constantly held hostage to demands from the Falcons, while we struggle to keep libraries and schools open is absurd.

Mark Bradley

May 21st, 2010
10:42 am

I see a corporate sponsorship: The DQ Dome.

Arthur Blank

May 21st, 2010
10:45 am

Sonny Clusters

May 21st, 2010
10:45 am

Having a dome in Atlanta doesn’t seem necessary unless you are playing the Peach Bowl or running a NASCAR race and then a dome would work pretty good unless everybody got asphyxiated with all the engine fumes from the race cars. Mark, you may want to look into that. We went to the Super Bowl and it was icy outside and the game went on indoors like it wasn’t even bad. That was a good day for a dome. Otherwise, who needs a dome? Just take off the roof and paint it another color and act like it is a new place to play. They tried painting it once and maybe it is time to do it again.

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Mark Bradley

May 21st, 2010
10:47 am

Didn’t they try taking the roof off the Dome once? During the SEC hoops tournament?

Jeff

May 21st, 2010
10:48 am

I only wish I was as poor as Mr. Blank.

Live in the real world: if you want it, PAY FOR IT. I’m sensing the makings of an ugly backlash if any public money gets involved. Fulton County just cut all music bands for elementary schools and he thinks he should get money for his team so that he can make more money? Yet another reminder why I hate pro sports.

Ted

May 21st, 2010
10:51 am

Orlando NEEDS a new football stadium (the Citrus Bowl). Atlanta just wants one. The Georgia Dome would not still get the events it has if it werent a viable host.

mike

May 21st, 2010
10:51 am

Arthur Blank.. shame on you.. no need for a new stadium.. the only reason he wants one is to line is own pockets, which are already lined! The Dome is fine.

Sonny Clusters

May 21st, 2010
10:53 am

Stinky Wintes also owns a roofing company and he is not going to be happy with Arthur Blank dissing roofs overhead, Home Depot sells a lot of shingles and other roofing stuff and Arthur is going to run off some customers complaining about having a roof on the Dome. If it didn’t have a roof they’d never be able to call it a Dome and water would come right in when it rains worse than it already does. Roofing is high tech business these days and Arthur Blank needs to recognize this. We was thinking he was a good businessman but we remember that picture of him sitting on his horse and he looked like a dandy in that photo and not so much like a cowboy. Does he still have that horse, Mark?

THE TONE

May 21st, 2010
10:54 am

The huddle house Dome has a nice ring to it doesn’t it ?
stay in the Dome win a superbowl and then ask for a new stadium.

Dan

May 21st, 2010
10:58 am

SEC fans are just to pu$$y to sit outside for a football game in December.

Dirty Bird

May 21st, 2010
11:00 am

While the dome has done some very nice things for the city of Atlanta, it has killed the Falcons. I was a season ticket holder for the birds at Fulton County stadium and the Dome. That stupid ugly teal building that was never a good home for the NFL. Tailgating blows and being indoors for football sux. The Dome has helped the Peach/Chik Fila bowl, but how about football games NOT played on New Year’s day. The Dome sux for concerts with terrible acoustics. Build an open air stadium in this lovely southern city that has better than average weather and watch the Falcons build a sustainable fan base. If I want Teal, i’ll go to Carolina!

Eric

May 21st, 2010
11:07 am

The world cup isn’t coming here in 2018. It will in 2022. They won’t let it go 12 years without it being in it’s home continent of europe. So with that said, by 2020, we will need a new stadium. That’s 8 years from now and it will be time for one. The cup will vote soon though so they need to plan this accordingly. I think they shouls use the dome for the next 8 years and then begin constructing what they want in 2018 in time for the cup.

mike

May 21st, 2010
11:07 am

Khalil Johnson for Governor

Mark Bradley

May 21st, 2010
11:10 am

Here’s the thing: The World Cup is a one-time event. The SEC championship game is played every year. (As is the Chick-fil-A Bowl.) And if you trade the Dome’s roof for an open-air stadium, you remove yourself from the rotation for the Final Four, NCAA regionals and subregionals and the SEC and ACC tournaments. Is that an equitable swap?

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Dan

May 21st, 2010
11:13 am

Why can’t the SEC just play their game outside? What am I missing here?

THE TONE

May 21st, 2010
11:18 am

why are we talking about the world cup? can you even drink beer out of it ?

Dan

May 21st, 2010
11:18 am

Every time you hear the public needs to recognize that government benefits are going to need to be cut due to all levels of governenmnt being broke, keep in mind the sense of entitlement extends to everyone who has received government benefits in the past, including billionaire sports team owners.

Hopefully someone tells Mr. Blank that if he wants a new stadium to enhance the value of his investment finance it himself or solicit private contributions. It is too late to ask for anymore government handouts for these projects given today’s economic realities. If a politician will not lead the charge opposing any more tax giveaays to subsidize a sport played by millionaire players and operated by billionaire owners my guess is the taxpayers will.

It is not as if Arthur Blank can threaten to move to Jacksonville like the Smiths did when they exercised their shakedown to get public dollars to build the Dome.

nola hawks fan

May 21st, 2010
11:18 am

last point by Mark is the KEY point of the arguement. And I know Tony B doesn’t agree, but I think the mega-conference thing leading to college football playoff in the next 5-7 years. And to keep the ATL/Chickfila bowl game in a key round, we have to keep a dome. You think most Atlanta sports fans would prefer a quarter final college football game? Or a week of soccer in 2016?

EW

May 21st, 2010
11:20 am

Call me crazy, but is a complete renovation/overhaul of the dome not feasible?? Surely it would be cheaper and there could be an interim plan for events while the work takes place? I think the dome needs a facelift, hell this day in age the could probably convert the dome to a retractable roof facility…

Mark Bradley

May 21st, 2010
11:20 am

It would actually be a month of soccer, nola hawks fan. (Though Atlanta would be only one of the cities playing host to games.)

But the point is essentially the same.

Driver 8

May 21st, 2010
11:23 am

I am old enough to have “enjoyed” years of Falcons games in the open-air splendor that was ATL-Fulton Co stadium. Every year after sitting through the 2 or 3 rainy games per year, there was ALWAYS a great cry for a domed stadium.

Arthur: If you can’t go retractable, leave it alone or feel free to pay for it yourself.

leland

May 21st, 2010
11:23 am

Dear Mr. MB–there’s this newspaper report about an 82 year-old man down in Enigma, GA who got bit by a rattlesnake and died. The man. This is a little puzzling because rattlesnake bites usually don’t kill an adult. Usually an adult just gets a little sick. But in this case, he died.

Maybe being 82 had something to do with it. Maybe he had a bad heart. On the other hand, he was out cutting his lawn, so he must have been in pretty good health. Actually, he was doing some work on his lawnmower in preparation for cutting the grass. He reached under it, according to the story, and the snake was under there and bit the man on the hand. In a way, I don’t blame it–it’s the nature of snakes to do that. But you could argue that it had no business under the lawnmower in the first place. What it proves to me, though, is you never can tell what might happen next. Eighty-two years old and gets done in by a snake. “Everything has a purpose,” mama said, when I was little. She also said, “What goes around, comes around.”

One time I was on my driveway walking out to the mailbox through this little piney woods and right there sticking half out of some weeds was this big black snake with yellow markings. I looked at it, and it looked at me. Then, it turned around and slithered off like snakes do, back into the woods where it still is, as far as I know. I made it on out to the mailbox; got my bill from Georgia Power.

Your pal, Leland

Mark Bradley

May 21st, 2010
11:25 am

I’ve never considered this before, but: Could leland and Sonny Clusters be related?

Andy

May 21st, 2010
11:25 am

This guy makes a lot of sense. This is a real tuff sell when the economy is struggling and you have the govenment making a lot of cuts. Blank needs to come up with his own money or shut up.

moorman

May 21st, 2010
11:26 am

let doraville cough up the money. ive always felt that was a EXCELLENT location. right at spaghetti junction. they have enuf land to make it a mixed used area out there.

Delbert D.

May 21st, 2010
11:26 am

According to the news last night, the Dome gets 10% of its revenue from Falcons games. Keep it for those uses.

Then find somebody who will finance a stadium north of Atlanta outside of Fulton County. Keep the City of Atlanta and Fulton County’s grubby hands out of it. Flowery Branch would be nice.

Mr C, a 32 year ticket holder

May 21st, 2010
11:28 am

As a long time Falcon Fan and having spent time at the old Fulton Cty Stadium (a open Stadium) and then the Dome I don’t want to go backwards and also pay more money in tickets and taxes too do it, why not just renovate the dome?

for less than what a new open stadium would cost (i am a civil engineer) they possibly could update and convert the Dome into a retractable roof venue

here in Atlanta I have rarely seen the Dome truly filled yes they broadcast that a particular game was “sold out” but that does not mean all tickets were sold or that the stadium was filled! so size certainly isn’t the issue, the issue is for Mr Blank to attract new customers and increase revenues so improve the Dome then

Pi$$onaDAWG

May 21st, 2010
11:28 am

The Colosseum in Rome had a “Retractable Roof” in 80 AD, some 1,930 years ago. I think the Ga. Dome can use a like idea. A huge canvas sheet to pull over the top when it rains. The KING of Home Owner Remodeling wants to Build all new from the ground up. HAHAHAH. What a Hypocrite

n-falcon

May 21st, 2010
11:28 am

Mark it will probably be more like the Home Depot field. They have big pockets and ties to it all, this is a whole pissing match between the Falcons and the GWCC. And it comes down to that one thing, if you want to move, move, but at the same time your footing the bill. Why I thought it never made sense that the govt got involved they made it more a pain, if blank wants to move them to get his hands on the cash, let him move. I know why hes doing it, because he makes the lowest amount of money off his team of all, because he doesn’t own the dome. Which I wish the GWCC would just sell it to him, but that would make too much sense.

PMC

May 21st, 2010
11:29 am

I wonder what the word is on that stadium lease agreement… when they can get out of it and or sign a new lease. That would probably be the best case at this point unless they can buy out the GWCC.

hell of an engineer

May 21st, 2010
11:29 am

contact engineering firm and devise a plan for the current roof to become retractable. Minute Maid Park in Houston where the Astros play have a great concept.

Eric

May 21st, 2010
11:30 am

Keep the dome then for the basketball games and start building the new stadium in 2018. Atlanta is a major city. It should have both.