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Leaders who saved the Falcons and built the Dome | News

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Leaders who saved the Falcons and built the Dome
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ATLANTA -- Imagine this city without the Georgia Dome or without an NFL team? Two men with vision went about a combined effort to save the Falcons and to create a facility that would become an enormous economic engine.

Governor Joe Frank Harris and Mayor Andrew Young
with political dexterity, iron will, and purpose got the Georgia Dome built, thus, keeping the Atlanta Falcons logo off those Jacksonville helmets.

Almost 20 years after its opening, 27 years since its planning, the former governor in Cartersville and former mayor in Atlanta have a great sense of accomplishment for what they pulled off in creating the Georgia Dome 

"We really have probably the best convention center in the world," Yound said.

"You look back and you feel like the pain and the process you had to go through to build the Dome was worth it," Harris said.

In the late 1980's the Falcons were the stuff of empty stadiums and last place in the NFC West.

But the NFL was booming around America and owners were getting new stadiums.

Falcons team owner Rankin Smith said if he didn't get a deal by 1991, the team was moving to Jacksonville. 

"I frankly wasn't intimidated by Rankin Smith," Young said. "I figured he was running a bluff."

It didn't feel like a bluff to Gov. Harris. He had some pressure to face.

"Rankin never did give it to me personally," Harris said. "His people negotiating on his behalf, they would lay the specific time and place down. 'You either do this or we're going to Jacksonville or Gwinnett or somewhere else.'"

Both leaders had a wonderful ally in John Aderhold, chairman of the World Congress Center Authority who had the idea of a combination convention center and sports stadium. 

"John Aderhold was close to the governor and me, and we all knew the stadium needed to be Downtown," Young said.

But there was a lot of work to do -- Speaker Tom Murphy was not on board. 

"I think the toughest part was working the process thru the General Assembly and convincing the public the state needed to be involved in a tremendous expenditure the dome would end up being," Harris said.

The then-governor had to go through the legislature twice getting the necessary increase in the hotel and motel tax. 

Atlanta businessmen joined the efforts with city and county officials to obtain financing.

But there was grumbling.

The churches near the dome were unhappy over traffic, congestion and some were displaced entirely.

In November 1989 the Concerned Black Clergy led a demonstration at the ground breaking ceremony with a human chain around the shovels and around the mayor and governor. 

Now what?

"Everybody was intimidated by the preachers," Young said. "We had to relocate three little churches, and they said I was building a temple to the devil."

"Andy said, 'I'll handle this,'" Harris said. "He drew them all together and had a prayer meeting and came back and said, 'It's all clear. We're ready to go.' And then later he came back and told me what it would cost."

Young said those churches, worth maybe $40,000, received $250,000 to relocate. Plus the other churches had their coffers filled with Dome parking. 

"We had a great working partnership and a kindred spirit between us," Harris said. "We are brothers in Christ."

"The Harrises are wonderful people," Young said. 

The Dome is the most successful public/private building in state history.

Both men have taught a class together at Georgia State University, their subject is familiar: Building the Georgia Dome.

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