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Some critics of the proposed $1 billion stadium in downtown Atlanta have raised questions about the idea. One question that keeps surfacing: "What’s wrong with the Georgia Dome?"
Atlanta City Councilwoman Cleta Winslow tried to answer that question during a March 18 council meeting in which she voted in favor of the financial framework for a new stadium. The measure passed 11-4.
The Georgia Dome may seem spry to some. But in stadium years, it’s pretty old, Winslow said.
"It may be a young stadium, but in this city, there isn’t a stadium that’s lasted more than 27 years," she said.
The Georgia Dome opened in 1992.
We wondered how did Winslow’s math stack up when applied to other Atlanta sports facilities?
Winslow later mentioned the old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and the Omni Arena in her remarks during the council meeting. Her council district includes several southwest Atlanta neighborhoods near Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves.
Twenty-three of the 30 stadiums currently used by National Football League teams are younger than the Georgia Dome. The New York Giants and Jets share use of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Most of the older stadiums have been renovated. The San Francisco 49ers are moving into a new stadium under construction in Santa Clara, Calif.
Now, back to Atlanta. Let’s begin with three venues that were built a century ago or more.
The councilwoman was referring to professional sports facilities in the city, so she was not referring to venues such as Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field, which was built in 1913. The stadium’s most recent renovation was completed in 2003.
A minor-league baseball team, the Atlanta Crackers, played at Ponce de Leon Park from 1907 to 1965. The stadium had a seating capacity of 20,000, making it one of the largest minor-league facilities in the country. The bleachers were segregated by race. Babe Ruth once hit a home run into dead center field (462 feet), where a giant magnolia tree stood. The park was torn down in 1966. The site is now a retail shopping center anchored by a Home Depot. That stadium was in use for 58 years and stood for 59.
In 1909, the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium opened. It was used for cultural events, an armory, a soup kitchen during the Great Depression, speeches by Presidents Teddy and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Grateful Dead concerts. It was also used for some sports events. The giant ivory structure was the venue for wrestling matches in the 1950s. It was also the site of Muhammad Ali’s return to the fight game in 1970, after his boxing license was reinstated in Georgia. Ali scored a technical knockout over Jerry Quarry, who seemed to spill more blood than land punches in that bout. The building, located at what’s now Gilmer and Courtland streets in downtown Atlanta, was sold to Georgia State University in 1980 and is now its Alumni Hall.
There are currently three pro sports franchises who play within the city limits, the Braves, Falcons and Hawks.
The Omni Colesium was built in 1972 and was home to the Atlanta Hawks. It was also home to the National Hockey League’s Atlanta Flames from 1972 to 1980, before they moved to Calgary. In the mid- to late 1980s, Hawks home games were the hottest ticket in town as fans poured in to see star forward Dominique Wilkins, who was known as the Human Highlight Film for his acrobatic dunks and prolific scoring. The Omni became history in 1997, 25 years after it opened. Its eventual replacement, Philips Arena, opened in 1999.
Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium opened in 1965. It's original name was Atlanta Stadium. The Crackers played there that year. The Braves moved there in 1966. For years, it was home to the Braves and Falcons. Baseball fans -- who grew used to seeing home runs hit there by Hank Aaron and other Braves power hitters -- knew it as the Launching Pad.
In 1997, the Braves moved across the street to Turner Field, which was initially built for track and field events for the 1996 Summer Olympics. After 32 years of service, the old Launching Pad was turned into a parking lot.
Winslow said through a City Council spokesman that she made an error.
To sum up, the councilwoman said there hasn’t been a stadium in Atlanta that’s lasted more than 27 years, referring to sports facilities used by professional teams. Most pro football stadiums are younger than the Georgia Dome.
In Atlanta, Winslow was correct on the Omni but off by five years when you consider Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
On balance, we rate her claim Half True.
Video of March 18, 2013 Atlanta City Council meeting.
Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium history.
Atlanta History Center album on Atlanta Municipal Auditorium.
Atlanta Time Machine information about Atlanta Municipal Auditorium.
Georgia Tech Athletics Department information about Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field.
New Georgia Encyclopedia history of Ponce de Leon Ballpark, Jan. 22, 2004.
Georgia State University article on Alumni Hall.
Omni Colesium history.
Telephone interview with Atlanta City Council spokesman Dexter Chambers, March 21, 2013.
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