After about two years of discussions, the Atlanta Falcons are a step closer to getting a new downtown stadium.
The state agency that owns the 20-year-old Georgia Dome on Monday approved the framework for a deal with the Falcons to build a roughly $1 billion stadium with a retractable roof. There are still several key steps ahead, including exactly how much the government will have to contribute and where it will be built.
The deal calls for the Falcons to pay about 70 percent of the total cost, and the government will pay for the rest with a hotel tax. The Fulton County Commission and the city of Atlanta still must approve using the revenue from the tax to build the new stadium. Mayor Kasim Reed has thrown his support behind the deal.
Under the proposal, the Falcons will run the facility and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, a state agency, will own it. The Falcons will agree not to relocate and pay $2.5 million in rent annually. The franchise gets to keep revenue generated from parking and operations.
The new stadium expects to have a seating capacity of between 66,000 and 72,000 and be completed in 2017. The proposal also calls for demolishing the Georgia Dome, which is also owned by the authority.
The Georgia Dome hosted artistic gymnastics and basketball during the 1996 Olympic Games as well as NCAA basketball tournament games, soccer matches and rock concerts. The 1994 and 2000 Super Bowls were played there, and it will host the NCAA Final Four in April.
Rich McKay, CEO of the Atlanta Falcons, said the franchise would explore plans to relocate within Atlanta or the metro area if the deal is not approved by local leaders.
"We would probably go back and look at a solution that involves an outdoor stadium somewhere else. That would not be our desire, and we don't anticipate that," McKay said, "We've really put our eggs in this basket."
According to NFL.com, the Georgia Dome is the 10th-oldest out of the league's 32 stadiums.
"I think this stadium should be iconic unto itself, and should put Atlanta in a position where we can attract any event that we desire to attract," McKay said.
Frank Poe, executive director of the authority, said the agency has no contingency plan if city and county officials assail the proposal.
Officials also need to decide whether the new stadium would be built on property north of the Georgia Dome, or on a lot south of the 71,250-seat arena. Poe said land costs, potential traffic congestion and the projected impacts on nearby neighborhoods will likely factor into that decision.
Falcons coach Mike Smith and his players have paid little attention to the stadium negotiations. The team is 11-2 and already has clinched a playoff spot by winning the NFC South.
"I don't concern myself with the stadium," Smith said. "I know that's something that's way down the timeline."
Offensive tackle Tyson Clabo chuckled when asked about it.
"Let me tell you a little secret about this new stadium," the 31-year-old Clabo said. "I'm going to be long gone by the time we play there."
William Perry, of Georgia Common Cause, a nonprofit, non-partisan citizen advocacy group, said the public has not been given enough opportunity to weigh in.
"It just seems like there needs to be more dialogue about what the public wants in this whole deal," Perry said. "It just gives the appearance that this thing is sailing through like a rubber stamp."
His organization has not taken a position on the proposal.