Monday, December 28, 2020

Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Part 2 of 2)

Welcome back!

It’s Part Two of our look at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium block! If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out Part One to see what was here before the stadiums were built. This one gets down and dirty with the Dome and the Benz. It’s a little more text-heavy than normal, but we’ve got some interesting stuff planned, so stick with it!

Here’s a brief recap of where we left off for anyone needing a refresher.

Great! Now that we’re all caught up, let’s dive back in.

We begin our tale not on our block(s), but rather on the other side of town at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.

Throughout the 1980s, Atlanta Falcons owner Rankin Smith had been growing increasingly dissatisfied with the Falcons' situation at Atlanta-Fulton.

Rankin Smith, Sr.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Falcons had shared Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium with the Braves since their first season in 1966. That stadium was designed for baseball and thus was a circle rather than an oval. This meant that the 50-yard line seats, which should be the best seats in the house, were among the worst because they were so far away from the field.

Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, 1967
Photo by Floyd Jillson
Atlanta History Center | Kenan Research Center

Smith was also unhappy with the Falcons’ lease, which was apparently one of the worst in the league. As the deal stood, the Braves paid less for rent than the Falcons but received 23% of all concessions profits, of which the Falcons got none.

The city was sympathetic to Smith’s woes, but there was concern that taxpayers wouldn’t get behind a brand new stadium. For one thing, Atlanta-Fulton had just undergone an $18 million renovation. Also, the Falcons sucked. Hard.

I made this.
Nonetheless, in 1985 Smith began scoping out alternatives in earnest, culminating in 1987 when he met with officials in Jacksonville, FL about moving the team there. When Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer--who had recently lost the Colts to Indianapolis--heard of Rankin’s wandering eye, he had this advice for Atlanta: “Do anything not to lose him.”

As it turns out, a potential solution had already been proposed. The Governor’s Office of Budget and Planning was considering a domed multi-purpose stadium downtown near the Omni and the state-owned GWCC, the latter of which was gearing up for another new expansion.

Smith had already been in talks with the GWCC about this proposed stadium in 1985, but no concrete decisions had been made. An early design existed along with a potential plan for getting it done.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Dec. 14, 1986

Mayor Andrew Young liked this idea, citing the New Orleans Superdome and the Houston Astrodome as financial boons to their respective cities. He saw a fancy new dome as a way to court the Super Bowl or even the Olympics (dare we dream so boldly?).

Smith wanted an open air stadium, but he was willing to accept a dome if the Falcons were the primary tenant. On July 7, the Falcons and the GWCC reached a deal to stay in Atlanta for 30 years if the new stadium was built by 1990. The Georgia Stadium Corporation was formed to secure 70% of the funding (through pre-sales of luxury suites), with Lowell Evjen as president. The Stadium Corp. would run the new Georgia Dome for the 10 Falcons home games, and the GWCC would run it for all other events (including a potential Super Bowl).

Lowell Evjen
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

With all parties in agreement, sights were set on this very neighborhood we’ve been discussing for the new stadium’s location along with new phases of the GWCC.

[Note: Foundry Street is the northern border of the area we've been looking at, and Magnolia has since been renamed International Boulevard. In the map below, our northwest block is the one labeled with the Amanda Flipper AME Church, but I think that's a mistake. Based on city directories, Amanda Flipper AME was one block north, which is why I'm not covering it here.]

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

The neighborhood balked at the idea of a stadium in its borders, concerned that local institutions like Mount Vernon Baptist Church and Frank G. Lake Lumber were at risk. Proponents of the stadium argued that it would revitalize the area, but City Councilman Jabari Simama wisely pointed out that it didn’t work that way for Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which did serious damage to the Washington-Rawson and Summerhill neighborhoods. Stadiums, he argued, don’t belong in neighborhoods where churches and football would compete for parking on Sundays. Residents felt that the neighborhood would be better served by affordable housing.

Jabari Simama, ca. 1987
Photo by JoEllen Black | Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Neighborhood concerns were largely ignored throughout 1987. Reverend W. L. Cottrell of Beulah Baptist Church in Vine City criticized the lack of attention to the neighborhood, calling the Dome "a monster that seems to be moving in our direction with no eyes, no ears and no mouth."

In October 1987, Lowell Evjen and GWCC president John Aderhold met with residents at Mount Vernon Baptist Church. Admitting they should have met with residents sooner, Evjen and Aderhold pledged a neighborhood impact study before anything would be built and said they’d try to work around Mount Vernon Baptist and Friendship Baptist in the stadium’s footprint.

Friendship Baptist Church
Photo by Dwight Ross, Jr. | May 3, 1987
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

Friendship Baptist Church
Photo by Dwight Ross, Jr. | May 3, 1987
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

Speaking on behalf of the neighborhood, City Councilman (and future mayor) Bill Campbell said, “Perhaps we ought to tear down the old stadium and build a church there.”

Bill Campbell, ca. 1986
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Unmoved by Aderhold and Evjen’s efforts, Mount Vernon Baptist held a 24-hour vigil in November protesting the new stadium.

Larry Perkins, 8, kneeling at Mt. Vernon Baptist vigil, 1987
Photo by Andy Sharp
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photos | Georgia State University Library

Meanwhile, Braves president Stan Kasten was feeling left out and sent a letter to the Dome’s backers requesting that the Braves be included in the new stadium’s plans. Kasten already had dreams of a new Braves stadium and felt that those dreams would be squashed by taxpayers if the Falcons got a new stadium first. Alas, it was too late in the process for the Braves to join in, so they’ll probably never get a new stadium, doomed to suffer Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium for all eternity.

Oh wait...never mind.

Opposition to the new stadium didn’t just come from the neighborhood.

In a February 1, 1987 opinion piece in the AJC, Atlanta City Council President Marvin S. Arrington argued that the cost to taxpayers would be too high even if Super Bowl dreams came to fruition: "Even a Super Bowl did not spare Louisiana residents from being gored to the tune of $23,824,425 to support the Superdome last year. And beyond occasional Super Bowls, how much do we actually gain when we simply siphon off revenue-producing events from existing self-supporting facilities such as The Omni and Atlanta Fulton-County Stadium?"

That piece was accompanied by the following cartoon:

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Feb. 1, 1987

In another AJC opinion piece from November 12, 1987, sports journalist Dave Kindred had some things to say about Rankin Smith’s threat to move the Falcons to Jacksonville: “Civic blackmail, an unkind label, has proved effective in helping sports franchises get new stadiums. And most often the threats are made by teams which have failed to win. Cities that pay the ransom then are in the uncomfortable position of subsidizing incompetence.”


For the most part, though, it seems that most Atlantans were ready for the Falcons to get a new home, at least according to this May 1987 AJC poll:

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | May 24, 1987

Whether people liked it or not, the new stadium moved ahead. The following year, the State Properties Commission was buying up property for the stadium and all the parking that would be needed. The simultaneous expansion of the Georgia World Congress Center resulted in the complete destruction of the Lightning neighborhood just to the north. The Commission tried to convince landlords to hold off on evicting tenants until relocation assistance could be offered, but many like Joe Shaffer (we talked about him in Part One) were quick to give eviction notices. Homes and businesses started vanishing, including the venerable Frank Lake Lumber Company, which we first saw back in 1911.

I highly recommend checking out this piece, which highlights the history of the Lightning neighborhood through its residents' own words: “Lightning Struck: How an Atlanta Neighborhood Died on the Altar of Super Bowl Dreams,” by Max Blau. The Bitter Southerner.

Adding to the rush to get a new stadium built was Atlanta’s official bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. A new domed stadium would strengthen the city’s unlikely bid.

In the photo below, Lowell Evjen is showing members of the U.S. Olympic Site Selection Committee an early Georgia Dome model as part of Atlanta's pitch to host the games.

Photo by Andy Sharp | 1988
Atlanta Journal Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

There were plenty of roadblocks, though.

First, the Georgia Stadium Corp. was having a tough time getting the 70% private funding they were tasked with. Their reliance on private suite sales was ultimately unsuccessful because the Falcons sucked eggs and nobody was too excited about forking over the money to watch a team lose in a shiny new stadium.

There were also delays getting all the land necessary. CSX Transportation (which formed out of a merger with Seaboard Coastline, which was itself a merger involving Atlantic Coast Line, which formed out of AB&C Railroad, which used to be AB&A when it first arrived here PLEASE TRY AND KEEP UP) owned a whole bunch of the land needed, but they were holding out for more mixed-use development (think Andre Steiner’s proposal from the ‘70s). They felt that the GWCC expansion and the new Dome would be too much space and there wouldn’t be room for needed amenities, with one representative saying, “There’s nothing to do there. You can’t buy things there. You can’t eat there. You can’t sleep there.”

Lowell Evjen was skeptical that CSX actually cared and thought they were just holding out for more money.

There was also plenty of political opposition to the stadium. Some council members were sympathetic to the neighborhood’s concerns of displacement, while others simply didn’t think the taxpayers should be saddled with a losing team’s infrastructure upgrade.

By the end of 1989, though, these obstacles were effectively overcome. 

CSX agreed to sell over 20 acres to the state for $15 million (much of which is just north of where we are for the GWCC expansion and parking).

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | March 16, 1989

Friendship Baptist and Mount Vernon Baptist were assured safety from demolition in the Dome’s final footprint. In addition, a $10 million trust fund was established to compensate Vine City for the Dome’s impact on the neighborhood. 150 houses in Vine City were to be built by the end of 1992. The Dome’s developers also promised $100k in job training and significant job placement for residents.

The Atlanta Stadium Corporation’s financing shortfalls were handled in part by Governor Joe Frank Harris stepping in with $32 million in state appropriation funds and the passing of a 2.75% hotel-motel tax. In addition, Heery International, the firm hired to design the stadium, cut 1,500 seats to lower construction costs.

Politically, the Dome’s supporters ultimately won out, with the final vote coming when the Fulton County Commission unanimously approved the Dome on June 7, 1989, leading Fulton Commission Chairman Michael L. Lomax to quip, “The Dome is done. Long live the Dome.”

It was a huge win for the Falcons, which is significant because it’s just about the only thing they’ve ever won.

Governor Joe Frank Harris with Rankin Smith | Jan. 24, 1989
Photo by Beverly Crawford
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

Because of all these delays, however, the Dome would not be ready when the lease at Atlanta-Fulton would be up. But the city threw $6 million at them to stick around one more year.

All this was already good news for the Dome’s proponents, and then came 1990…

On May 23, 1990 the Georgia Dome was selected to host Super Bowl XXVIII in 1994. It would be Atlanta’s first Super Bowl and maybe the biggest thing to hit the city since the Union Army.

More shirts! Joe Frank Harris, Maynard Jackson, and Rankin Smith
Photo by Andy Sharp
Atlanta Journal-Constitution | May 24, 1990

Then about four months later, on September 18, this happened. Against all odds, Atlanta won the bid to host the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.

After these announcements, the skyboxes started selling like hotcakes, ranging from $20k to $120k a year.

Before the Super Bowl or the Olympics could come, though, the thing had to be built!

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

Rolling out the Teflon fiberglass roof
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

During the Dome’s construction, attention was drawn to an unsheltered community that had developed under and around the Techwood and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive viaducts called Hutville (or sometimes Hutsville) due to the proliferation of makeshift huts and shacks assembled. The huts themselves were apparently built starting in 1988 by a group of architects called “Madhousers” who would put them up under cover of darkness as a way to help the unsheltered population, although it’s unclear how long the community had been living under the viaduct. Aside from the one under the Techwood viaduct, other Hutvilles the Madhousers created in Atlanta included one near the Carter Center and another on Marietta Street.

Photo by Joey Ivansco, 1992
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

When the 1988 Democratic National Convention was held at the Omni Coliseum, the city moved Hutville’s roughly 15 denizens into temporary apartments off North Avenue. The city pledged not to destroy the huts themselves so that these people had something to go back to after the Convention should they choose, but there was hope that longer-term solutions could be found.

Although I don’t know what happened to those specific people, a permanent solution to Hutville was not immediately forthcoming. By 1990, Hutville's population jumped to 55. Many of these people worked (or tried to work) low-wage jobs, and several were among those who applied but were turned down for jobs at the Dome (lack of ID was a major factor). In the November 5, 1990 Atlanta Constitution, one resident, Curtis, remarked: “They said there were going to be a lot of jobs in Atlanta because of the Dome. Well, the Dome is over there, and I’m living over here.”

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | May 26, 1992

Curtis was Hutville’s unofficial mayor, and the community had rules and a routine. Troublemakers were banished. Residents avoided shelters, which they perceived as overcrowded, dirty, and unsafe. Construction scrap from the Dome was used for a communal fire barrel where residents kept warm and cooked food. Most recognized that it wasn’t a permanent situation, though. Many hoped to get back on their feet before too long, but everyone knew that the whole place would eventually be bulldozed to make a parking lot for the Dome.

In December of 1990, Atlanta’s Public Works Department removed wood from the area known to be used as firewood for Hutville. Mayor Jackson said it was a mistake and only trash was meant to be removed. But homeless advocates weren’t buying it, claiming the removal of wood collected to keep people warm during the winter was a tactic to get people to leave.

In November 1991, a fire at Hutville got out of control and damaged the bridge at the intersection of MLK Drive and Techwood, which furthered the city’s concerns about the community. Residents were temporarily moved to tents in a separate location, and another round of discussions surrounding a more permanent solution commenced and then stalled.

In 1992, as the Dome was nearing completion, the city finally decided that Hutville needed to go and offered the 69 residents subsidized rent in a selection of apartment buildings around the city paid for by the Georgia Dome Authority. Dale Mines, successor as unofficial mayor, said in the July 4, 1992 Atlanta Constitution: “We are considered society’s misfits; we’re an eyesore. If not for the Dome, I don’t think they’d be doing anything for us. But it’s still a blessing.”

With Hutville out of the way, the Georgia Dome opened the summer of 1992. The Falcons held their opening game on August 23rd, defeating the Philadelphia Iggles.

First touchdown, 1992
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

Initial reviews of the Dome were strong, with spectators praising the open plan that allowed fans to see the field from the concessions lines. One reviewer was also delighted by CUPHOLDERS IN THE SEATS, hell yeah! People also felt that it complemented the skyline, particularly the way it glowed at night.

Looking east, 1993
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University

Problems in the neighborhood continued, though.

The $10 million trust fund for new housing in Vine City had trouble materializing because 20% was supposed to come from the private sector, but that never happened. There were also badly needed repairs to the neighborhood’s streets and sewers that made new home construction difficult. There was an optimistic groundbreaking ceremony in 1990, but as of August 1992 when the stadium opened, only 20 of the 150 planned homes were built.

Artist rendering of new homes to be built in Vine City | May 30, 1990
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University

In addition, the $100k in job training for residents hadn’t happened. The job placement that residents were promised at the Dome also didn’t go well. Hundreds of applicants were turned down until complaints led to 200 hires, but 150 of those were part-time. Vine City residents felt that once the city got the stadium through, they abandoned their promises to the neighborhood.

Magnolia Street looking east toward the Dome under construction
Photo by Renee Hannans
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

A week before the opening game, the Dome hosted an open house for Vine City residents (and plenty of party crashers). Despite lingering concerns, many residents were impressed and even excited about the Dome. 62-year-old resident Cecil Hardeman put things into perspective:

"This is beautiful. What I don't like is I can't afford a ticket [to the Falcons games] and the people right here can't afford to get to the games. I wish I had the money some of these people paid for the suites, $120,000 for one year. I'd build me a house. Three bedrooms, three baths. Boy, I'd be living smart for what they're paying for one year." (AJC, Aug. 15, 1992)

For better or worse, the Dome was here.

More than just a sports arena, the Dome hosted a variety of entertainment. The first concert held there was the Olympic Flag Jam, a celebration to welcome the Olympic flag to the city on Sept. 17, 1992. Performers included Whitney Houston, James Brown, Trisha Yearwood, and TLC. You can hear some of the performances at Paste Magazine.

The first headlining concert was U2 on their Zoo TV tour on Sept. 25.

The AJC published a list of upcoming events when the Dome opened:

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Aug. 15, 1992

Too many other artists performed there to list, but I’ll just throw out Paul McCartney’s concert in May 1993 because I have a photo of him at the Dome:

May 1, 1993
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library

But the Dome’s main event would arrive the following year. As Super Bowl XXVIII approached, all eyes were on Atlanta and the Dome to see if the city could pull it off. Atlanta hadn't hosted anything of this scale in modern times, and if things went wrong, it would be very bad press for the city set to host the 1996 Olympics. Lots of tourists, politicians, press, and celebrities would be coming. As the AJC said on Jan. 16, 1994, “Donald Trump will be here, and so will Bill Cosby.”

That aged well…

The big day came on January 30th. Conan O’Brien sent Andy Richter to the Dome to cover the event in a segment on Late Night.

During the game, two men were discovered watching from the rafters, where they had potentially been hiding for days. One got away, and the other was charged with criminal trespassing. 

Other than that, things went smoothly and the thing was an overall success. The Dallas Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills 30-13.

With the Super Bowl done, focus shifted to the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. The city updated a lot of its infrastructure and public spaces in preparation for the Olympics. One of these projects was the new Georgia International Plaza, completed in 1995 on top of the parking deck that replaced the old Mayson Incinerator.

The new plaza was intended to beautify the large parking deck and connect the various venues in the area for pedestrians. The centerpiece of the plaza is a gilded bronze statue by Atlanta artist Richard MacDonald titled "Flair Across America: The Gymnast."

With new infrastructure in place, the Centennial Olympic Games opened in Atlanta on July 19, 1996. The Dome hosted basketball, gymnastics, boxing, and handball.

The U.S. men’s basketball team was nicknamed the Dream Team III. I remember seeing Scottie Pippen from afar somewhere downtown back then. I feel like we practically lived downtown when the Olympics were here.

Anyway, here’s the Dream Team’s introduction at the Dome.

Arguably the most dramatic Olympics moment to take place inside the Dome was Kerri Strug’s vault on an injured ankle that clinched the gold for the U.S. team (seen here).

Lots of other Olympics drama happened at the Dome and elsewhere, but that’s like a whole book unto itself. After the event, Techwood Drive was renamed Centennial Olympic Park Drive.

The Dome continued as one of Atlanta's major events spaces, so we'll just quickly jump through a sampling of the major events surrounding it:

A few years after the Olympics, the Dome hosted another Super Bowl, this time XXXIV between the St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans on January 30, 2000. The Rams won.

Looking east. Mount Vernon Baptist at right
Photo by David Tulis, 2000
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Photographs | Georgia State University Library 

In 2001, International Boulevard (formerly Magnolia Street) was renamed Andrew Young International Boulevard in honor of the former mayor and U.N. Ambassador who was a proponent of the Dome and a key figure involved in the 1996 Olympics.

On March 14, 2008, a tornado struck Downtown during the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, damaging the Dome. The game was in overtime when the tornado hit, which meant attendees were thankfully still inside the building and not making their way back home. See the harrowing experience here.

WWE’s WrestleMania XXVII came to the Dome on April 3, 2011. It was Atlanta’s first time hosting the event.

Jersey Shore star Snooki wrestled at the event, which also featured The Rock, John Cena, The Miz, and Cody Rhodes (among others).

The Rock, Snooki, and John Cena

By the time Snooki graced the Dome with her presence, though, the city was dreaming of bigger and better things. If Atlanta was going to keep hosting Super Bowls, the city would need a competitive stadium. In April 2010, the State legislature approved extending the hotel-motel tax through 2050 to fund a new or renovated stadium.

The original plan was to have a new open-air stadium co-exist with the Dome, but that plan was abandoned by 2012 in favor of a retractable roof stadium to replace the Dome (I feel like it just got here!).

In April 2013, the firm 360 Architecture was hired to design the new stadium. Two sites were floated: the ‘south site’ next to the Dome, and the ‘north site’ off Ivan Allen Blvd just on the other side of the GWCC. The city and Mayor Kasim Reed wanted to keep the new stadium close to the Dome’s location because of its proximity to the MARTA line. The Falcons (now owned by Arthur Blank, who bought the team from the Smith family in 2002), were eyeing the north site because there were fewer obstacles to building a new stadium there. In order for a stadium to be built at the south site, the two remaining churches, Friendship Baptist and Mount Vernon Baptist, would need to move.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution | Aug. 7, 2013

Ultimately, the city pushed for the south site and negotiated with the churches to buy them out on the Falcons’ behalf (with some help from former mayor Andrew Young). The Falcons would buy out Friendship Baptist and the state would buy out Mount Vernon Baptist.

Given the cultural significance of both churches, though, they were able to negotiate prices significantly higher than what the property appraised for. The Falcons paid Friendship Baptist $19.5 million, but the state could only legally pay Mount Vernon the appraisal value, which was $6.2 million. Since the Falcons are a private organization, that restriction didn't apply to them. They made up the difference, and Mount Vernon ultimately got $14.5 million.

In Sept. 2013, the Board of Trustees for both churches overwhelmingly voted to approve the deals.

The Dome and the two churches, 2013

Mount Vernon had its final service at the MLK Drive church on March 9, 2014, and it was demolished soon after.

Mount Vernon Baptist Church
Photo by Terry Kearns | Architecture Tourist | 2013

Raymand Bernard Thrash, Mount Vernon member since childhood, takes a final look.
Photo by Curtis Compton
Atlanta Journal-Constitution | March 10, 2014

The congregation temporarily moved to Carver College on Cascade Road before opening their new permanent church on Lynhurst Drive. Learn more about them here.

Friendship Baptist was demolished on July 28, 2014. Their new church would eventually be built a couple blocks southwest on Walnut Street. Find them here.

Friendship Baptist Church demolition | July 28, 2014
Photo by Ben Gray | Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Check out Terry Kearns’ delightful Architecture Tourist blog for a final look at Friendship Baptist before its demolition.

So that was that. The new stadium was a done deal. This was a huge win for the Falcons, which is significant because it’s just about the only thing they’ve ever won.

Ground broke on May 19, 2014. The following year, Mercedes-Benz USA bought the naming rights, reportedly valued at $324 million.

Land cleared in 2014 (Friendship still hanging on to the south)

Construction continued for three years, which you can watch most of in this official time-lapse video.

Opening of the stadium was delayed multiple times throughout 2017 as the retractable roof proved problematic. Construction delays didn’t affect the Falcons’ season, but the new MLS team, Atlanta United (recently bought by Arthur Blank) had to play the first few matches of their inaugural season at Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium.

The stadium did finally open (with some persistent roof troubles that were eventually resolved) in August of 2017.

And lo! The Benz is risen.

The Dome officially closed that June, but the two structures briefly lived side-by-side.

The time came, however, to say goodbye to the Georgia Dome. I was at the Benz that September for Atlanta United's opening game in the stadium, and I noticed some early Dome destruction going on.

I'm not really sure what this preliminary work was for, but I'm guessing it's somehow related to the stadium's pending implosion. Yes, 25 years after its storied opening, the Georgia Dome was imploded on November 20, 2017.

Photo by Mike Stewart/AP

And let us never forget this iconic moment captured live by The Weather Channel.

Rewinding a couple months, Friendship Baptist held its first service at their new Walnut Street church on July 30, 2017. That morning, members of the church marched from the old location to the new.

Photo by Kent D. Johnson | July 30, 2017
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Benz looms behind the new Friendship Baptist Church on Walnut Street

Back at the Benz, the Falcons played their first regular season game there on September 17 against the Green Bay Packers. As a previously mentioned, Atlanta United was already into their season when the Benz was ready, and their first match in the new stadium was held September 10 against FC Dallas. The home teams won both!

I attended that United game and took the following photos. The retractable roof was still having issues at the time and remained closed.

By the time I returned in October, the roof was working and was open.

On Dec. 8, 2018, the Benz hosted the MLS Cup, which saw Atlanta United defeat the Portland Timbers 2-0 to become national champions. The crowd went wild.

It’s significant because it’s just about the only thing Atlanta ever won. (Don’t worry, I’m almost done.)

On Feb. 3, 2019, the Benz hosted Atlanta’s third Super Bowl, this time LIII between the New England Patriots and the L.A. Rams. Some football happened and the Patriots won by probably not cheating.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Stadium

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Stadium

The Benz was supposed to host the Final Four of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in March of 2020, but then March of 2020 happened instead.

Anyway, that brings us up to date!

I thought it might be fun to do some comparisons of the current block with its pre-stadium layout, specifically the 1949 aerial photo. First, here's the block with all the old streets carved out so you can see the original grid (or close enough, anyway).

Next, here is the block with some of the dearly departed landmarks. I included the big chunk of the railroad embankment that ran right down the middle. And the top right is where we saw those photos of the housing conditions and that little storefront church.

And that'll do it. Maybe one day I’ll do another one of these, but holy cow I think I’ll stick to single blocks for the foreseeable future. This was...a lot. But it was a pleasure bringing it to you, so I hope you enjoyed it!

Special thanks to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, whose reporting on the Dome and the Benz in particular I relied heavily on for this.

I will leave you by re-linking to the “Lighting Struck” article from The Bitter Southerner because I really encourage everyone to read it.

I hope you all stay safe and healthy as we ring in the New Year (and beyond). Until next time...


  1. This as so fabulous! Must admit...watching the crowd cheer ATL United put a little tear in my eye...reading this made me kinda homesick for some ATL action! Thanks for the great article!

  2. Please continue to update this blog... I love it!