By Houston Barber
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a behemoth, located delicately in the center of downtown Atlanta between skyscrapers, public parks, and thousands of homes. Huge, triangular glass panes make up the outer walls of the $1.5 billion structure and reflect a diverse city that is hosting three professional stadium projects completing in the span of a year (the Braves open their new ballpark in April and the Hawks are planning a massive renovation ready for next season).
In 2017, sports stadiums have become the source of increasing public criticism. Debate has raged on the ethics of billionaire owners threatening their hometown with relocating in exchange for hundreds of millions in stadium funding. Studies, such as the one done by Stanford’s Roger Noll, have created doubt as to how much value a stadium truly adds to a community. So how does a modern mega sports complex answer these questions? Can a billion dollar stadium give back as much as it takes? It’s a question that needs to be answered, and perhaps Atlanta’s Arthur Blank is the one to do it.
The decision to build a new NFL stadium in Atlanta was not without controversy. The former Georiga Dome was built in 1992 and was only 18 years old when plans were announced for its replacement. Negotiations between Blank and Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed were productive and no shakedown occurred, but that didn’t prevent critics from balking at the $200 million of public money that was spent on what might not be the most necessary of stadium projects. What the critics didn’t know at the time was just what Blank had up his sleeve; a vision to transform what a stadium could do to a surrounding community, and an ambitious quest to build the most environmentally friendly NFL stadium ever.
To truly understand what this stadium is, you have to understand its surroundings. Mercedes-Benz Stadium sits on the edge of Atlanta’s Westside, a fraught neighborhood that has seen the raw end of real estate deals in the past. When heavy storms roll through the city, rain water tends to overwhelm the sewer system and funnel into the neighborhoods in the Westside. The result is heavy flood damage that never gets repaired. It’s been an issue largely ignored for decades, but Blank and his team developed a plan to use the stadium to alleviate the problem. In the early stages of construction, a 1.1 million gallon storm vault was implemented to catch rainwater. That harvested water will be used for irrigation and the stadium’s cooling system. It’s not a cure-all, but it’s an example of a new kind of awareness in stadium engineering that Mercedes-Benz Stadium hopes to pioneer.
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Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Atlanta Falcon’s new home, is seeking LEED Platinum certification — and is “on target” to achieve this highest level of the green building rating from the US Green Building Council, says Falcons president and CEO Rich McKay.
Once construction is completed this summer, the stadium is is expected to be the first NFL and MLS stadium to achieve LEED Platinum. It will also be the first sports facility to achieve all water credits available for LEED.
The venue’s management has also committed to further restore natural water systems wetlands and damaged watersheds and are pursuing a new LEED Pilot Credit strategy called Water Restoration Certificates (WRC). Through this effort, the stadium will purchase WRCs locally from the Flint River in Georgia’s water supply, providing for a 100 percent regional impact and monetary benefits for the local watershed, the stadium managers say.
Other sustainable building features include:
- Save 29 percent in energy usage compared to a typical stadium design
- Has 4,000 solar panels generating around 1.6 million kilowatt hours per year of renewable energy
- Electric car charging stations
- Onsite edible landscaping
- 680,000-gallon cistern used for water recapture and reuse for land irrigation
- 1 million gallon cooling tower
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Today, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) released its “LEED in Motion: Venues report”, which highlights the efforts of convention centers, sports venues, performing arts centers, community centers, and public assembly spaces to transform their environmental, social and economic footprint through LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification.
“The scope and scale of the venues industry is enormous, and the leaders creating these spaces have an important role to play in reducing environmental impact,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, President & CEO of USGBC. “By incorporating green practices, venues around the world are positively impacting their triple bottom line — people, planet, profit — while inspiring and educating others to be proactive in the areas of social responsibility and sustainability.”
Venues are large contributors to the U.S. economy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of conventions and events is expected to expand by 44% from 2010 to 2020 — outpacing the average projected growth of other industries. Annually, the top 200 stadiums in the U.S. alone draw roughly 181 million visitors, and roughly 60 million people worldwide attend a consumer or industry trade show. Waste Management estimates that the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL generate a combined 35,000 metric tons of CO2 each year from their fans’ waste. The convention and trade show industry, one of the largest global contributors to waste, produces an estimated 60,000 tons of garbage each year.
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