ATLANTA, Ga. - When the Falcons last played a regular-season home game, there was a massive pile of debris next to Mercedes-Benz Stadium – the remains of the imploded Georgia Dome.
That site will look quite different when fans arrive for the Falcons’ 2018 home opener Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
Most of the former Dome site has been turned into The Home Depot Backyard, an 11-acre multi-purpose greenspace that will be used as a tailgating and parking area for Falcons games and other stadium events.
The space was built atop 15 feet of crushed debris from the Dome, which was imploded late last year.
Sunday’s game starts the Falcons’ second season in the $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The opening of The Home Depot Backyard, immediately north of the stadium, is the most noticeable change since last season.
The space, which will serve as a community park on non-game days, features natural-grass playing fields, wide walkways, a pavilion, a playground and public restrooms.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank described the space, which officially opened with a ceremony Tuesday, as “not an appendix but an extension” of the stadium.
“The most important part of this park to me personally is not the 50-odd days when we’re going to have the greatest tailgating facility,” Blank said. “It’s going to be the other 300 days (when) this will be a great community park.”
For game days, stadium officials partnered with Tailgate Guys – a company that offers premium tailgating options at numerous college and NFL stadiums – to sell packages that include catering, tents, tables and chairs.
A portion of the former Georgia Dome site has been set aside for a 1,000-room hotel tower planned by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. Construction could begin late next year.
In addition to the new greenspace, here are some other changes at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for this NFL season, which will culminate with Super Bowl LIII in the stadium Feb. 3:
» Work was finally completed this summer on the stadium’s complex retractable roof, now described by Falcons officials as fully functional. The Falcons plan to decide on a game-to-game basis whether to open the roof, depending on weather conditions.
» A new “neighborhood bar” has been built on the middle-level concourse at Section 247, near the stadium’s popular skybridge. The bar is a partnership between the stadium and Cutwater Spirits.
» A new craft beer from Avondale Estates brewery Wild Heaven Beer will debut at concession stands around the stadium. The beer, dubbed ATL Pale Ale, will be offered at $5 for a 12-ounce draft and $7 for a 20-ounce draft.
» Prices on six additional food items, ranging from Italian sausage to chili cheese fries, have been reduced by $1 each. Last year’s more dramatic price cuts also will remain in effect at concession stands, including $2 hot dogs and $2 refillable soft drinks.
» Three additional sets of double doors and one overhead rolling door were installed on the east end of the stadium shortly after the end of last season as part of efforts to address congestion as fans exit the building.
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