On May 19, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the New Atlanta Stadium ground breaking. Scheduled to open in early 2017, the successor facility to the Georgia Dome will be the home to the Atlanta Falcons, the new MLS soccer franchise, and the legacy events that were once hosted in the Dome. The stadium sits on the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) campus right next to the College Football Hall of Fame, Philips Arena, and CNN.
Since ground breaking, quite a bit has happened on campus. To make room for the construction site, over 1,000 parking spaces, two major roadways, and several sidewalks were eliminated. Another main road leading to the parking decks has gone through three different physical changes. On the south side of the Dome, what once housed the 16 window ticket office has been relegated to a 10-foot covered walkway. The ticket office has been relocated to the north side of the Dome into a temporary structure (a pretty good looking one at that). The closest point between the Dome and the New Atlanta Stadium is 40 yards. Take a look at a football field, and it’s basically a long pass from Matt Ryan to Julio Jones on a Sunday afternoon.
With construction in full effect, rethinking the ways we operate is our new norm. Our current environment isn’t conducive to doing things the way we always have. For instance, we’ve made the decision to move pedestrian traffic in one direction around the building for egress of major events. The direction may change based on the event, but we did this to keep the flow of guests moving through the 10-foot covered walkway safely. We’re also limiting the number of guests exiting certain gates to detour traffic from construction areas. Elevators and stairwells inside our parking garages and the Georgia World Congress Center are being used to help with vertical movements to the Dome’s gates. While these solutions may be inconvenient to some, they’re necessary to keep guests safe.
Even with construction of the stadium project, the City of Atlanta has not slowed any of its road improvement projects. Roads that once offered relief to egressing vehicles from capacity events are now closed to be rebuilt, reflecting the need to keep the city’s infrastructure strong. This is forcing vehicles to detour onto smaller city streets. Temporary road closures are popping up throughout the city for filming and staging of equipment, as Atlanta is rapidly becoming the Hollywood of the East. Having an understanding of the daily activities and road closures is a full-time job. Putting together and executing a clear-cut plan of operations for each day on and around our campus is the only way we’ve managed to be successful.
Through all these physical changes being made on and around the campus, the one thing we’ve learned to make consistent is communication. In the early stages of construction, we identified the key stakeholders. These stakeholders are now invited to weekly meetings to review construction updates, upcoming events, and traffic conditions around Downtown Atlanta and their effects on the campus. There are occasions when all facilities are activated at the same time, and there are more than 100,000 people on campus. Without the coordination of logistics, this can easily turn into chaos if all the facilities are not operating off of the same plan.
Once the plans are baked, each venue will relay next steps to their organizations. Each person answering the phone should be able to speak knowledgeably to guests enquiring about directions to campus. Each venue then communicates the same information to its ticket holders and other stakeholders. Some of the communication vehicles include venue websites, social media, and direct emails using venue-specific ticketing systems. We’ve also found success with inviting the media down and giving interviews to stress the importance of guests following the plan.
Communications with the stadium project’s superintendent is equally important. We’ve been fortunate that he has experience operating within the city and our organization. He understands our environment and the quality of service we are known to provide our customers. With large construction vehicles and over 1,000 workers accessing the construction site per day, surprises can prove to be very expensive. The superintendent understands that all the facilities on campus need to continue with their operations in order for the stadium project to be successful, so he’s been forthcoming with information. In return, we keep him plugged into our plan of operations to eliminate surprises.
If you’ve ever been through a similar project, you’ll agree that it’s important to have an owner’s representative. The owner’s representative is basically our conduit to the overall construction project. Very few organizations have a person on staff that has the knowledge of being a lead in the construction of a stadium. Even though we have weekly meetings with the superintendent, our owner’s rep is making sure construction is going to plan. He’s our point of contact when we notice something out of the ordinary and someone to give us the facts and make recommendations when we’re required to make a decision.
Just like any construction project, no amount of planning can account for last minute changes in schedules or something not going exactly to plan. In these cases, it is important to manage the pop-ups as they come and to communicate changes to the stakeholders. Once things clear up, it’s important to debrief, agree on ways to improve, and communicate to all involved.
When the project is complete, the New Atlanta Stadium will be the crown jewel of the City of Atlanta. The views of the field and the City of Atlanta will provide for an amazing game day experience. This project will continue to help Atlanta win bids for the world’s top events. None of this would be possible without the hard work of the GWCCA and Atlanta Falcons senior leadership. Building a new facility is an exciting time for a community and a franchise. In the meantime, operating the Georgia Dome for the next two football seasons is our primary goal. Developing relationships with stakeholders, execution of plans, and effective communications are going to be the keys to the successful operation in our construction environment. FM