Georgia Dome Implosion A Month Away

Atlanta’s 25-year-old venue will soon fall; has been replaced by Mercedes-Benz Stadium

  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: October 23, 2017

The west plaza of Georgia Dome, Atlanta, which will be imploded on Nov. 20 after standing for 25 years.

Atlanta’s Georgia Dome will be imploded on Nov. 20 at 7:30 a.m. The 25-year-old Atlanta landmark was the former home of the Atlanta Falcons. It’s been replaced by the $1.6-billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

During the Dome's 25 years, it hosted more than 1,400 events and more than 37 million people visited the venue, bringing over $7.4 billion of economic impact to the area. The building has a maximum capacity of 72,000 seats. It hosted the National Basketball League's (NBA)Atlanta Hawks from 1997-1999 and Michael Jordan played his last game in the dome.  That game was the largest regular-season attended event in NBA history.

Georgia Dome was the site of two Super Bowls, in 1994 and 2000, three Final Four events and  the Olympics in 1996. To celebrate the 1996 Olympics, the Sara Lee Corporation sponsored the creation of a 1,996-foot-long hot dog. Estimates are that it wrapped around the Dome nearly twice.

“Georgia Dome was the first stadium that functioned as a multipurpose stadium and functioned successfully in that model,” said Jen LeMaster, chief administrative office for the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA). “There really had not been a venue that went from National Football League (NFL) to college football and then turned around and did high school football. The Georgia Dome created the model for how that business could work. It’s not given enough credit for birthing that model.”

In 2010, a variety of solutions were discussed for how to improve the fan experience for Falcons fans. “One was to renovate the Georgia Dome; another was a two-stadium solution and the third option was building a new stadium outright,” said LeMaster.

“We wanted to keep the dome running, but we couldn’t reach a business agreement with Arthur Blank [team owner] and the Falcons; they were prepared to leave our campus,” she said. “Ultimately, in 2012, a brand-new venue was decided upon.”

The demolition of Georgia Dome was built into the master agreement with the Falcons for Mercedes-Benz Stadium; it was tied into the opening date of the new facility.

There will not be an opportunity for spectators to watch the implosion in person. “There’s a restricted zone, and the campus is small and compact and parts of the Georgia Dome are physically connected to other buildings,” said LeMaster.

The Georgia Dome is “exactly 83 feet from Mercedes-Benz Stadium,” which will be cleared; all the other buildings on the campus will be cleared as well.

GWCCA has partnered with a local TV station, WSB TV, to produce and broadcast the implosion live. “It’s the Monday before Thanksgiving,” she said. “We’re hoping people will take the morning off and watch it on TV.” In addition, a number of offices in high rises near the dome have sent out notices that they plan to have viewing parties.

Carl Adkins, executive director of the Atlanta Football Host Committee and GM, Georgia Dome, recalled when the Georgia Dome opened Aug. 22, 1992, at a cost of $210 million.

“In addition to being the home of the Falcons, the dome provided a solution for major events,” remembered Adkins. “One of the great solutions Georgia Dome provided was having the World Congress Center next door, which allowed the ability to grow when it needed ancillary event space for tailgates, NFL Experiences, media centers and hospitality centers.”Adkins is only the second GM of the venue; he took over in 2002 from Khalil Johnson.

Georgia Dome also solved weather-related problems, according to Adkins. “The Peach Bowl had been known as the ‘weather-plagued bowl’ until it came to Georgia Dome,” he said.

Memorable events included a roster of the biggest names in live touring: Paul McCartney, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, U2, Kenny Chesney and Beyonce. Supercross and Monster Jam were highlights on the family-show side.

In 2009 Georgia Dome brought in soccer and that led to the venue hosting the semi-finals of the Gold Cup. “We paved the way for what is now the wildly successful Atlanta United,” said Adkins. “People were able to see very quickly there was an appetite for soccer in Atlanta."

The worst experience in the 25-year-history of the facility was easy for Adkins to summarize. “We were hit by a tornado in 2008 during the Southeastern Conference (SEC) men's basketball tournament,” he recalled.

One panel on the roof marks the exact spot the tornado hit. It's a lighter color white than the rest of the panels because it needed to be replaced.

"We call it our little battle scar," said Jason Kirksey, a representative for the Georgia Dome at the time.

Around 25,000 people were in the Dome when the tornado hit because the game went into overtime thanks to a three-pointer from Alabama's MyKal Riley. "Had he not done that and the game ended, all of those people would have been in the streets when the tornado hit," he said. “We were very fortunate; there was no loss of life and only minor injuries.” 

The venue was shut down approximately two-and-a-half weeks and reopened, appropriately enough, on Easter Sunday.

Adkins favorite memory is “hands down the people. The staff were referred to as ‘Team Dome” and they made memories for everyone who came here. It was pure magic.”

Harriet Thomas, learning and development manager for the Georgia Dome echoed Adkins praise for the staff. “The end-of-the-year celebration was an annual event where we’d recognize the team for the past year’s accomplishments,” she said. "The people made the difference and the yearly get-together was a highlight year-after-year.”

LeMaster said she remembered her very first Monday Night Football game. “I was there eight hours early, thinking I was there with plenty of time. Carl called me in and said, ‘you might want to consider coming in at 8:30 a.m. next time.’ He was right, things happen and it took the whole team to deal with them.”

“The building has been really special for the community and it will be missed,” added LeMaster.

 

  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: October 23, 2017