BRADENTON, Fla. — The Atlanta Falcons hope to seek proposals by the end of the month from companies interested in designing a new open-air stadium for the National Football League team.
The proposals would also provide firmer cost estimates for a new stadium, though a feasibility study earlier this year said it could cost up to $700 million.
The Falcons currently play home games on artificial turf in the enclosed Georgia Dome in downtown Atlanta, which was financed by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority.
The team has wanted to play outside the Dome for years, and now hopes to play in new digs by the 2017 season.
The GWCCA has discussed renovating the Dome. The team has said it prefers a new stadium.
“The Falcons have advised the Georgia World Congress Center Authority of their desire to issue a request for proposals for new open-air stadium designs; the purpose of the RFP is to help determine the vision, design and costs involved for the proposed stadium,” said authority spokesman Mark Geiger.
“Due to legal and functional concerns, it has not been determined how and when the RFP process will unfold,” he added.
The authority owns the Dome and sold $200 million of revenue bonds in 1990 for its construction.
The 1990 bonds were refunded in 2000 within the same final maturity for a more favorable interest rate, according to a state audit report earlier this year.
The Series 2000 bonds were insured by MBIA Insurance Corp., and required the Falcons to play in the Dome until the current bonds are paid off in 2020, according to bond documents.
The outstanding bonds, secured by a hotel tax that currently expires in 2050, have been callable at par plus accrued interest, in full or in part, since July 1.
The bonds, outstanding in the principal amount of $112.6 million, are now scheduled for full redemption on Nov. 29, according to a notice posted on the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board’s EMMA website by the trustee, Bank of New York Mellon.
Sherrie Spinks, the GWCCA’s chief financial officer, said the agency received an offer from Wells Fargo to privately place the refunding bonds within existing maturities for debt service savings between $12 million and $14 million. The bonds will have a three-year par call feature, and no additional reserve requirement.
“The current debt has an average 5.5% interest rate and this [refunding] is looking to be 3.5%, so it is definitely going to save us some money on our debt,” she said. “It’s a great business decision because we can take advantage of low rates and hopefully pay off our bonds early.”
Spinks said the refunding will not provide the authority with additional bonding capacity, since it has a $200 million cap on the amount of debt it can have outstanding. The refunding will not release the Falcons from the team’s agreement to play in the Dome unless the refunding bonds are paid off early or the authority’s legislatively imposed cap on debt is removed.
Earlier this year, a bill that would have lifted the bond cap was vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal. He said the measure did not give the state enough oversight.
If the authority’s refunding bonds are paid off before scheduled maturity in 2020, that could help the Falcons meet their goal of playing in a new stadium by 2017.
The new stadium, as described in a feasibility report earlier this year, would be in walking distance of the Dome and constructed on land owned by the authority.
In May, the GWCCA board directed staff to distribute an RFP to select a senior managing underwriter to assist with the financing related to the construction of a new stadium or renovation of the Dome.
According to authority documents, it’s contemplated that new-money bonds would be issued in 2014.
Because the authority is a state agency, it is required to seek approval from the Georgia State Finance Investment Commission, which participated in the process of selecting the underwriter.
The authority received underwriting proposals from Barclays Capital Inc., Citi, First Southwest Co., Goldman, Sachs & Co., JPMorgan, Loop Capital Markets LLC, Morgan Stanley, Raymond James & Associates Inc., Sterne, Agee & Leach Inc., SunTrust Robinson Humphrey Inc. and Wells Fargo.
Citi was selected to work on a plan of finance for the Falcons’ new facilities.
In addition to determining a more exact cost of building a new stadium, the authority and the team’s owner still must hammer out how much the Falcons will contribute to the project.
According to a feasibility study released earlier this year by Populous, an estimated $700 million stadium can be built on a 28-acre parcel north of the Dome.
The site currently is used for parking and staging large vehicles for Dome and convention events. That site may need to be relocated.
The feasibility study also examined the costs to operate and maintain the Dome over the next 20 years. It concluded that the multi-use facility would need between $35 million and $75 million in improvements to remain competitive for collegiate competitions, and championship and bowl games.
If an outdoor stadium is built, the new venue would seat 65,000, with the capability of expanding to 75,000 seats. It would have 7,500 club seats on the sideline and 111 suites of various sizes.
The Georgia Dome, one of the largest cable-supported facilities in the country, was built as a multi-purpose venue with 70,600 seats. It has been upgraded several times over the years.
At the half-way point in the 2011 pro-football season so far this year, the Falcons are 5 and 3. They are a half-game behind the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South division, which also plays in a domed stadium.
The Falcons are only the most recent player in the ongoing cycle of NFL stadium upgrades. The league’s newest facility is the $1.6 billion MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, which opened in 2010 as home to the New York Jets and New York Giants.