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May 31, 2013

Downtown Renaissance

Several fancy “uptown” projects put Atlanta’s downtown back on the map

By Nancy Staab

Atlanta’s downtown finally gets its due with a new-fangled, $1 billion football stadium, a major National Center for Civil and Human Rights designed by The Rockwell Group and….a Ferris Wheel a la The London Eye.

A Stunning New Football Stadium

On March 7 of this year, the Atlanta Falcons and the city of Atlanta agreed to build a brand new downtown stadium, estimated at $1 billion. The project is a result of the Falcons’ wish to have an outdoor stadium and the city’s ambitious bid to host future Super Bowl games and other major attractions like the FIFA World Cup-- with the attendant tourist dollars and prestige that these marquee sporting events would bring. The proposed site is less than a mile north of the current Georgia Dome. The only thing standing in their way, the matter of two historic black churches:  the pre-Civil War era Friendship Baptist Church, which stands on the site where freed slaves once practiced religion in an old box car, and Mount Vernon Baptist Church. These churches would have to relocate to make way for the new stadium. The issue highlights two core belief systems in the South: religion and football. So much so that Kim Severson reported on the conflict in a recent article, dated April 21, in The New York Times. According to reports the city of Atlanta has offered the churches about $10 million, ten times their appraised market value, to relocate within the neighborhood. Mayor Kasim Reed has taken Eminent Domain off the table, so that the decision is the churches to make without pressure from the city.

In the meantime, the selected architect for the new stadium, 360 Architecture of  Kansas City, MO.,  has submitted two proposed designs for the new showpiece stadium. 360 Architecture competed with four other finalist firms for the project and are the designers of the Meadowlands Stadium, the new home of the NY Jets and NY Giants. With their proposed Falcons stadium, 360 promises to break new design ground. (In fact, the press is already conjecturing whether Jerry Jones is shaking in his Texas boots that the Falcons new stadium might outshine the home of his Dallas Cowboys! )  360 Architecture presented two design options, but as is typical in the architecture profession, we are pretty sure they loaded the dice on the decision-making, because the one design, known as The Pantheon, is  much more innovative and artistic than the other, known as The Solarium.  The Atlanta public seems to agree. In an informal poll conducted by The Atlanta Business Chronicle readers preferred the Pantheon design by more than 65%. The Solarium has been likened to a utilitarian, glass airplane hangar with its rectangular/warehouse shape, while the unique Pantheon design sports a hexagonal shape similar to an unfolding Lotus flower or futuristic space ship. The retractable glass roof of The Pantheon stadium design, partitioned into petal-like pieces, can be erected on a rainy day in a matter of a few minutes, or retracted once the sun comes out.  When the roof is in place, a round oculus window in the ceiling allows natural light to continue to fill the arena, a nod to the classical Pantheon in Rome-- from whence the elegant design takes its name.  As long as Atlanta is going to commit to this billion dollar temple to leisure sports, the city should have the courage and taste to go with the boldest  and most bodacious of the two designs: The Pantheon.

Other innovative aspects of the proposed new stadium: 360-degree, wrap around video boards that encircle the entire stadium above the field; an 100 Yard Bar with another long video board overhead to keep an eye on the field action; a Fantasy Football Lounge; and Disney Land-like “Impact Seating” –i.e. chairs that vibrate with each big hit or tackle on the field!

Only $200 million of the billion-dollar price tag of the new stadium would be contributed by the public, via Atlanta’s hotel and motel tax. The rest of the funding will come from investments contributed by Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s Foundation and other private sources. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been a big backer of the plan from its inception, promising thousands of new jobs for the city, countless tourist dollars, and a revitalization of the downtown area surrounding the stadium to boot. Maybe a modern day Pantheon is just what Atlanta needs to finally prove its status as the shining, capital city of the South.


For more info visit:  or click here to download a pdf of the full 360 Architecture design proposal, including the Pantheon and Solarium designs:


The Pantheon design for the new Falcons football stadium by 360 Architecture The Pantheon design for the new Falcons football stadium by 360 Architecture

An occulus in the ceiling lets in light. An occulus in the ceiling lets in light.




The exterior of the Center for Civil and Human Rights by HOK and Freelon Group The exterior of the Center for Civil and Human Rights by HOK and Freelon Group

National Center for Civil and Human Rights

Last month celebrated design agency The Rockwell Group unveiled its stunning interior exhibition designs for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, slated to open at Pembroke Place (adjacent to the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola attraction) in spring 2014. In a swanky cocktail event hosted by W Atlanta Downtown, lead designer David Rockwell gave a preview of the immersive, progressive and profound exhibit designs for the space. The lively design conversation was lead by the Center’s CEO Doug Shipman.

Rockwell is a star designer whose NYC-based firm is noted for its theatrical designs for Las Vegas hotels, most recently The Cosmopolitan. They have also designed several destination restaurants such as various Nobu eateries around the globe from Beijing to Budapest. Given his penchant for dramatic spaces and lighting, Rockwell has also done his share of Broadway set designs--- recently garnering two Tony nominations for “Kinky Boots” and Nora Ephron’s “The Lucky Guy.” However, his work for the National Center for Civil and Human Rights will take on a more sober, subdued, if still dramatic and impactful tone. Rockwell spoke of himself as a “storyteller” and provided insights into how he approached the story of the civil rights movement. He also discussed strategies to personally engage viewers in this momentous recent history in our nation. One strategy was to re-create the segregated lunch counters. Another exhibition room has interactive tables or immersive kiosks with high-tech audio and video. Yet another room in the Human Rights section invites you to identify with an oppressed person around the globe. In his conversation Rockwell emphasized themes of craft, communal spaces, and transformation.

Indeed, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights promises to be a transformative space that will put Atlanta on the national culture map.  HOK and the Freelon Group collaborated on the design of the building with HOK as the architect of record. Expect a contemporary, environmentally sustainable, 3-story building with green roofs, reflecting pools, a courtyard, contemplative and communal spaces, and a double-height glass lobby/atrium. There will be a special room housing rotating exhibits from The Morehouse College Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Collection as well. Eventually Atlanta’s revived trolley paths will be able to transport visitors directly from the Center to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic site just a few blocks west.  The Center was funded with generous support from Invest Atlanta and private funding. It is slated to open in May of 2014.


For more information visit:


Architect David Rockwell chats with Doug Shipman at the W Atlanta Downtown event Architect David Rockwell chats with Doug Shipman at the W Atlanta Downtown event

Center for Civil and Human Rights CEO Doug Shipman Center for Civil and Human Rights CEO Doug Shipman





Paris' SkyView Ferris Wheel is coming to downtown Atlanta this June Paris' SkyView Ferris Wheel is coming to downtown Atlanta this June

An Atlanta Ferris Wheel

A 20-story ferris wheel is slated to come to Atlanta, via Paris and Pensacola, as early as mid-June [UPDATE: The ferris wheel will open in late July].  This month the Atlanta City Council approved Pacific Development LLC’s plans to launch the “SkyView” wheel in an empty lot owned by The Tabernacle at the corner of Luckie Street, Centennial Olympic Park Drive and Nassau Street. The ferris wheel, which once sat outside the Louvre in Paris, and most recently circulated in Pensacola, offers 12-15 minute rides in full enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas. While the view of downtown Atlanta many not live up to the majestic views of Paris, or London’s The Eye for that matter, it should be a big draw for tourists and locals alike. Pacific Development, a St. Louis-based company, expects 1,000 to 3,000 passengers a day with daily operational hours from 10AM to Midnight. The wheel could make for a romantic end to many a date night, particularly in the VIP gondola with TV monitor and champagne bucket . No taxpayer, city or public money is going towards the wheel, which is 100% privately financed. As for the price of a spin?  An affordable $13.50 per ride for adults or $8.50 for  children.

Another view of the ferris wheel across from The Louvre Another view of the ferris wheel across from The Louvre