Blank unveils improvements to Georgia Dome while pitching new stadium

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arthur blank
ATLANTA - Even though he is pitching for a new stadium, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank is getting ready to pay for $30 million worth of improvements to the Georgia Dome.

On Thursday, Blank announced plans for the improvements to the 14-year-old dome, with work beginning immediately after this season. He said the dome will undergo interior and exterior upgrades, making it more attractive and comfortable for fans.

New luxury seating, expanded club lounge areas, a video scoreboard that will be double the size of the current one and the Falcons-themed red and black colors repainted on the outside will be part of the facelift.

Plans for the 70,000-seat dome include expanding the luxury suite area with what Blank called ``super suites,'' eight 94-seat suites with individual private concessions and plasma television sets.

Blank said about 1,500 club area seats will be restored. The seats were taken out years ago when the Falcons had trouble selling them.

Blank expects renovations to suite and club seat areas to be completed before the 2007 season, and other remodeling projects to be done by 2008.

``Like our commitment to putting a competitive team on the field, we are also committed to being competitive in other areas such as this,'' he said.

Blank is still pushing for a new stadium, preferably downtown. Last week, he said he is ready to start negotiations on a downtown stadium to replace the dome.

Georgia World Congress Center Authority officials, who manage the dome, were surprised by the proposal for a new facility, but Blank says now is the right time to make his pitch.

With 23 new stadiums built in the NFL since the dome opened in 1992, he said it takes an average of eight years from the initial discussions to moving into a new facility. The Falcons owner believes he could be positioned to move into a new stadium by 2015.

In the meantime, Blank wants the atmosphere to improve at the dome. The renovations also will enhance the World Congress Center's biggest venue for conventions. The building also hosts the Southeastern Conference football championship and the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

``We hope this is just a first among many in working with the Authority to improve the facility in the near and long term,'' Blank said.

Blank said he was unsure about the dome's naming rights. He said he favors keeping the current name, but the decision is up to the Authority.

``We are very sensitive to the fact that this is the Georgia Dome,'' Blank said. ``This has been the Georgia Dome since 1992. We are going to be supportive of looking at it, whether it has Georgia in it or not.''

But Blank believes that shouldn't be a problem now.

``The fans have been a blessing,'' he said. ``We have soldout 43 consecutive games. This project is a great tribute to Atlanta and its fans.''

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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