Besides Falcons football, the dome has hosted the 1994 and 2000 Super Bowls, the 1996 Olympic Games, the 2002 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men's Final Four basketball playoffs, the 2003 NCAA women's Final Four, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournaments, the SEC football championship game, and the USA Indoor Track and Field championships.
In 1988 former Falcons owner Rankin Smith, who brought professional football to Atlanta and the Southeast in 1965, threatened to move the team to Jacksonville, Florida, or another city if the state of Georgia did not construct a new facility for the Falcons. For twenty-six years the Falcons shared Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium with the Atlanta Braves, but the Braves organization kept most of the revenue from parking and concessions at Falcons games. The Falcons' last game at Atlanta–Fulton County Stadium was played in December 1991.
Construction was financed without taxpayer participation through tax-exempt bonds issued by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (which manages the facility, as well as the Georgia World Congress Center and Centennial Olympic Park) and a 2.75 percent hotel/motel tax levied in the city of Atlanta.
Today the Georgia Dome is the second-largest domed structure in the world (after the Millennium Dome in London, England) and the world's largest rigid cable-supported oval dome. The ceiling of the twenty-seven-story facility is made of a Teflon-coated fiberglass, and there is a five-story atrium in each of the building's four corners.
Arthur Blank, who bought the Falcons from the Smith family in 2002, hoped to bring the Super Bowl back to Atlanta in 2009 and promised notable changes to the dome's interior, but the National Football League owners opted in 2005 to award the 2009 game to Tampa, Florida. The proposed improvements to the Georgia Dome were scratched, although around $2 million was spent in 2005 to create the 250-member Owner's Club in the dome's lower level.
When Blank, who cofounded Home Depot, bought the Falcons, he not only lowered ticket prices on approximately 23,000 of the dome's 71,250 seats (which gave the team its first sold-out season in more than twenty years) but also purchased land near the facility, where fans could gather and tailgate before Falcons games.
While the dynamic design of the Georgia Dome has generally been praised, the arena experienced one troubling situation in August 1995, when heavy rains pooled in a section of the roof and tore it. The roof was repaired, and a structural adjustment was made to avoid future problems.
Although the Georgia Dome is synonymous with the Atlanta Falcons, more basketball games than football games have been played in the facility. Besides the many NCAA basketball games played there, the Atlanta Hawks spent two seasons in the dome while nearby Philips Arena was under construction. The largest crowd in National Basketball Association history—62,046 fans—visited the Georgia Dome on March 27, 1998, when Michael Jordan played his final game as a Chicago Bull in Atlanta against the Hawks. Jordan scored 34 points to lead his team to an eighty-nine to seventy-four victory.
The Georgia Dome had perhaps its busiest time ever as 2005 gave way to 2006. On December 30, 2005, 65,620 fans were on hand as the Louisiana State University Tigers defeated the Miami (Florida) Hurricanes forty to three in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Falcons concluded their season two days later with a forty-four to eleven loss to the Carolina Panthers before a crowd of 70,796. Finally, on January 2, 2006, 74,458 fans saw the West Virginia Mountaineers defeat the Georgia Bulldogs thirty-eight to thirty-five in the Sugar Bowl. The Sugar Bowl moved to Atlanta from New Orleans, Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage and flooding in New Orleans in August 2005.
The Georgia Dome has also been the site of concerts from major musical performers, including the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, U2, the Backstreet Boys, Alabama, and the VIBE Musicfest lineup, and has held other events such as major trade shows (including Amway conventions) and religious gatherings led by Billy Graham and Bishop T. D. Jakes.
Chris Starrs, Athens
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