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BISHER: Paying $700 million for what?

Furman Bisher

Furman Bisher

As I understand it, the ownership of the Atlanta Falcons proposes that an outdoor stadium seating 65,000 spectators be built to replace the stadium now in place that seats 73,000 under cover, served by a Marta rail line.

That may be over-simplifying the subject, but that’s the basics of it. As you and I may both see, there’s something out of sync there, especially since this is the city that would like to host another Super Bowl game — out of doors in Atlanta? Which lost favor after an ice storm broke loose at the time of the last one, played under cover.

At the time Arthur Blank assumed ownership of the franchise, there was much rejoicing. He came on with cautious candor. He welcomed fans to the Georgia Dome with the warmth of a host cozying up to guests in his parlor. The least we expected of him was a franchise owner devoid of all the self-endowed ego of a Jerry Jones. But now, this?

Moving from that comfortable parlor to a scruffy pasture?

No roof, and 8,000 fewer seats? Most of us thought that Mr. Blank had profited by the mistakes made by the previous ownership, and surely, not by moving from a comfortable parlor on an artery just out of the bustling heart of the city.

What more could an owner want for himself and his sporting clientele? Besides, he has parking, a Marta station, access by foot — as against Jerry Jones’ new Cowboys extravaganza located 30 miles west of downtown Dallas.

Let me assure you, that ownership of a sports franchise does not necessarily indicate a basic understanding of a sporting public. Take the Atlanta Braves, for instance, who became the inheritor of the stadium built to accomodate the 1996 Olympic Games. Perfect timing for a Marta station to serve the National League franchise after the competitition, I thought. And so I mentioned to Billy Payne, the improbable genius responsible for bringing the Olympics to the city.

“Oh, no,” he said. “There’ll be no Marta station there.”

“Why?”

“The Braves don’t want it. They want the money from parking,” he said. And it came across like a sock to the jaw.

And as one writer put it the other day, “What do we have 15 years later? An island surrounded by parking lots.” It’s easier to get to Yankee Stadium in New York than it is to get to Turner Field in Atlanta.

It’s possible to ramble on endlessly about the improbability of moving the Falcons from the comforts of the Georgia Dome to a weeded lot farther removed from the bustling city. What in God’s name gives here? Is there some vile reason for inflicting another hardship on Falcons fans at the time their team is assuming its status as an established contender? I was further puzzled when I read this statement by a person named Byron Amos, who builds things:

“We’ve learned from our failures with the Dome. We want to do it right this time.”

Our failures? The Dome came to us as a saving grace, not just for the Falcons, but for college bowl games, ACC and SEC basketball, and as a destination of many an event that lined the city’s profits with a landfall of outside income. Do tell me that this is only a fleeting nightmare, surely not some serious project weighing on the mind of Arthur Blank.

Ye gods, Falcon football at the mercy of our fractious weather after these gracious seasons of indoor comforts? Don’t we realize when we’ve got it good, or would you rather have National League football in the wintry blasts of Green Bay at a cost of $700 million?

Furman Bisher is one of the deans of American sports writing. The longtime Atlanta sports journalist is a member of the Georgia and Atlanta Sports Halls of Fame and in addition to his newspaper writing has authored multiple books on major figures like Hank Aaron and Arnold Palmer. He writes periodic columns for the Daily Post.