Rich McKay confident changes won't delay stadium opening

ATLANTA -- Rich McKay confirmed on Thursday that $200 million in changes have been ordered for the new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but the Falcons president and CEO is confident it won't affect the target opening date of June 1, 2017.

McKay addressed the issue during a question-and-answer session Thursday, after a tour of the stadium.

"When you look at the change orders -- $200 million in change orders -- it's principally in steel from the complexity of design,'' McKay said. "That's where that [cost] is. We knew that was coming. We've seen it coming. When we decided to do the one-stadium solution and do a downtown solution on a complex site ... this site was complex.

"As you know, it's 50 feet higher up from the [nearby convention center, the World] Congress Center is to where we are here. So, there's a lot of complexity. We knew that was going to increase cost. We also knew when we put a roof on, it's going to increase cost.

"Those overruns were principally driven by the complexity of design, the amount of steel involved, the numbers of cranes involved to make sure that we get the stadium up on time. All those things went into that.''

There were previous delays in the construction process that moved the target date from March 2017 to June 2017, as first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Regardless, McKay reiterated how plans for the June 1 opening haven't changed. The Falcons are scheduled to move to the 75,000-seat stadium, with a retractable roof and 360-degree, 58-foot video board, beginning with the 2017 preseason.

"We're pretty confident in our timetable,'' McKay said. "June 1 is a good date for us. We're working pretty confidently toward that date, and we feel very good about it. I would say that we have really picked up the pace. You've seen the steel going up. You've seen the numbers of lifts that we have. We're in a pretty good place.''

The portion of the roof that will be fixed, with 17,000 tons of steel, is about 40 percent complete and should be finished by mid- to late September. The retractable roof panels will then be in place in February or March. The last part of the construction process will be the lower-bowl seating.

About 1,500 workers are putting in six days a week so the stadium can open as scheduled.

McKay said there is no guarantee Atlanta United, a new MLS soccer team planning to start play in 2017, will have the first event at the stadium.

"I'm not sure we know yet,'' McKay said. "I would say to you that there's a very good chance that Atlanta United opens the stadium as the first event. That's kind of what we thought we'd think at this point in time. But with respect to other events that we've already had offered to us or brought up to us that are really cool events, we're not going to say what those are yet. You'll like them.

"There are a couple out-of-the-box ideas that have been brought to us that would be really cool and would be neat for Atlanta and a worldwide stage, so let us just work through that a little bit. I still believe if you're just asking for who's going to run on this field first, it pretty well should be Atlanta United. But as far as the opening event and those types of things other than Atlanta United, that remains to be seen. That would be a mystery.''

The Falcons will be moving from the Georgia Dome to the new stadium. If the stadium is not ready for the 2017 preseason, the organization is prepared to create a contingency plan, such as the Falcons playing all those preseason games on the road.

The Georgia Dome won't be available then, with the venue's last event scheduled for March and the first phases of the demolition process starting next summer. The area will be used as a grass tailgate parking lot, a garage and possibly a hotel.

The Mercedes-Benz Stadium will host the College Football Playoff national championship in 2018, Super Bowl LIII in 2019 and the men's basketball Final Four in 2020.