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Formerly known as the College of Architecture

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When The Super Bowl Comes To Town, Design Faculty Pay Attention

You might be forgiven if you assumed College of Design faculty generally aren't football fans, and would therefore have little interest in the Super Bowl.

But that doesn't mean we're not fans of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, downtown real estate, and the finer points of development, regional impact, and facility management! Several Schools within the College plan to discuss the Super Bowl and its effects on the city of Atlanta as part of ongoing lectures and studios.

We regularly treat the city of Atlanta as an active laboratory for our academic programs. With the Super Bowl happening where we work and live, it's only natural to examine some of the most interesting design-related aspects of our city's biggest event.

Benjamin Flowers, Expert in Stadia Design and Architecture

School of Architecture professor Benjamin Flowers poses against a black wall.

One of the newest stadia in the United States, the Mercedes-Benz seats up to 75,000 people and features novel design technologies including a retractable roof and a 63,000 square-foot video board that encircles the roof aperture. Benjamin Flowers, professor in the School of Architecture, said massive buildings like stadia have the ability to bridge political divides.

“In the United States, politicians of all political stripes routinely support public financing of stadium construction for professional sports leagues,” said Flowers. “And so, you find mayors and city councils in places as politically varied as Atlanta, Minneapolis, Seattle, Houston, and Arlington, TX (home of the Dallas Cowboys) agreeing to spend public dollars to support what is a private enterprise.”

Stadia also connect people from various races, classes, and creeds. Flowers said one reason stadia have such an impact in society is, “You’re mixing the social power of sport with the social practice of architecture—two of the most powerful forces in modern society. That is the only place in modern life where most people share that kind of kinship with tens of thousands of others as broadly and as generously as they do across lines or race, class, and gender.”

Just as stadia can unite and inspire a crowd, they are also capable of adding to a city’s identity, thereby, inspiring a sense of community. For example, when the U.S. Bank Stadium was built in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the design employed ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) for the walls and roof so that the skyline became a part of the crowd’s experience. ETFE was also used for the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, adding to the trend of using the skyline as part of the building’s design.

“We have the world’s busiest airport and if we look at flight patterns going into and out of Hartsfield-Jackson, a huge number of those planes fly in close enough to Mercedes-Benz that everyone onboard and looking out the window sees it,” observed Flowers. “The Atlanta skyline is sufficiently generic, and it’s popular for filming because it can stand in for almost any place.  What Mercedes-Benz does is it gives the city of Atlanta something it didn’t have before—an architectural icon that is immediately recognizable and globally broadcast.”

When selecting a Super Bowl-worthy stadium, the NFL considers more than just the size and newness of the stadium. They also consider the building’s visual appeal both inside and outside the stadium. Is it striking? Will it provide a strong establishing shot? “And that is something that leagues are super attentive to—how these things photograph for broadcast coverage, in addition to how full they look and how dynamic they are when the audience forms a kind of moving curtain background to the field.”

To learn more about an architect's perspective of stadium design, read more about Flowers' Super Bowl thoughts here.

Catherine Ross, Expert In Regional Development

School of City and Regional Planning professor Catherine Ross sits in front of a black wall.

When a city hosts the Super Bowl, they have been chosen for a number of reasons, according to Catherine Ross, Harry West Professor at the School of City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech.

Some of these reasons include existing infrastructure investment in hotel, transit and the stadium; and a “sense of place” with ample social opportunity, good weather, and that is reachable from all over the world.

“World class cities convene world class events in an excellent way,” Ross said.

“We have the ingredients – from volunteers, to restaurants with cultural diversity, to our mobility systems, to the hotel infrastructure already existing from the fact that we are a conference destination – but the rest is in the preparation and early preparedness is key,” said Ross.

“We want to develop a reputation that the city of Atlanta can accommodate these large-scale events,” Ross said.

Ross said that MARTA is critical to Atlanta making this Super Bowl a great success. The general consensus is that the rule is “Don’t Drive.” MARTA plans to have transit ambassadors guiding fans to the correct stops, in addition to extra vending and Breeze cards to allow for a more seamless experience. More uniformed officers have been added as well.

Ross explained that other than MARTA there are ridesharing options, and even the taxis will most likely join in and be a part of it. The high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes will help with travel as well. The motorized scooters from Bird and Lime will likely also address the last mile, getting fans exactly to where they want to go.

Atlanta residents will either join the festivities or leave the city. Whether staying or getting out of town, Ross recommends getting elective trips around the city taken care of before this weekend.

As for Ross, she plans to stay put. “I’ll be here to hang out and enjoy our city experience,” she said.

Rick Porter, Expert In Real Estate Development

Real Estate Development program director Rick Porter poses in front of a black wall.

Rick Porter, the director of the Real Estate Development graduate program for the School of Building Construction said the Super Bowl is a win for local real estate. His program is a collaboration between all Georgia Tech Schools that deal with the built environment, and he stresses the connection between economic development and physical development.

"A unique aspect of Real Estate Development is that the primary commodity -- real estate and land -- is fixed," he said. "You must bring demand to the commodity, you can't take the commodity to the demand. From that perspective, big events like the Super Bowl are long term positive for the business of real estate development."

Essentially, real estate development is a growth business, he said. "If you are in an area that is not growing, then development can't really thrive. It depends upon us getting the word out. For events like this, it depends on bringing in people that have investable money into our space."

"Ultimately, the neighborhood surrounding the stadium is, in fact, getting new development that it would not get without Mercedes-Benz and the Super Bowl." Porter suggested that real estate developers may find opportunities in areas near the stadium that they didn't notice before, thanks to the media surrounding the big game. 

But that's not to say that a week's worth of Super Bowl-related events will always feel like a win, he said. The development currently underway in the downtown area will experience problems.

"Active development sites are significant workplaces," Porter said, "with many people coming and going on a daily basis. And not just construction workers, engineers, or on-site staff, but vehicles. Some of those are very large vehicles, given that material and products are being delivered regularly."

Significant disruptions in the flow of people and vehicles during Super Bowl will naturally create schedule delays and other unpredictable setbacks, he said.

"That's one of the things about real estate development, it is permanent. As a result of that it imposes on the community, and what you have to do is try to be sure that you're mitigating that every step of the way. In my experience, we (real estate developers) are not always the best communicators.And when a big event like this comes, there's no denying it's going to be negative for a week."

Nancey Green Leigh, Expert In Economic Development

Associate Dean of Research for the College of Design Nancey Green Leigh sits in front of a black wall.

Nancey Green Leigh, Associate Dean for Research in the College of Design and professor of city and regional planning, will spend Super Bowl weekend on her farm.

She notes that the many people who will leave the city, as well as those who won’t visit, are just two of the variables that need to be taken into account when computing the real economic impacts of the Super Bowl.

“Often with major entertainment events like the Super Bowl, sports economists have found that the anticipated economic impacts are over estimated by the NFL and the host city. The sports economists’ subsequent analyses of the actual events result in substantially lower economic impacts,” said Leigh.

“We need to consider the revenue lost from displacement of normal tourism and residents that leave. We also need to consider how much of the money spent on the Super Bowl will actually stay in Atlanta. This refers to the concept of revenue leakage, and it is a big problem in tracking the realities of the benefits from the Super Bowl."

"In Atlanta’s case, two major potential cases of revenue leakage are the reports that NFL will keep all of the revenue parking and ticket sales.  With over 75,000 seats in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and current ticket prices running into the thousands of dollars, that is a lot of revenue leakage,” she said.

Eunhwa Yang, Expert in Facility Management

Eunwha Yang poses in front of a black wall

Smooth and uninterrupted operation of a professional sports stadium at its full capacity requires integrated and systematic facility management, said Eunhwa Yang, assistant professor in the School of Building Construction.

"The scope of facility management services for the event like the NFL Super Bowl is all-encompassing: cleaning, landscaping, lighting, parking, accessibility, security, public safety, sustainability, just to name a few," she said. "Integrating these facility management services is essential due to the scale and nature of a live event. On-site cleaning staff present in restrooms and concession areas, for instance, is required to keep up with the usage."

Yang expects Mercedes-Benz Stadium to proactively incorporate sustainable practices, in large part due it being the first professional sports stadium to achieve LEED Platinum in the U.S. Such practices can diminish the environmental footprint of such a large-scale event, she said.

"Energy and water efficient facility systems and fixtures, visible and conveniently located recycling bins, and environmentally friendly cleaning products are a few possible examples. A sensor-enabled parking system or app can be utilized to mitigate congestion around the stadium and attract fans whose primary concern is the inconvenience of parking and transportation."

Yang points out that the integrated facility management of big stadiums like Mercedes-Benz can also attract fans. "The experience economy attracts people to spend money on ‘meaningful’ and ‘memorable’ experiences," she said. "Seamless operation provides a pleasant environment and encourages fans to come to the stadium and watch the game."