One year ago, Georgia State University took a major step forward by playing its first football game at Georgia State Stadium. The stadium, the result of a conversion of Atlanta’s Turner Field into a college football venue, allowed the university to address a pressing facility need while simultaneously taking a step that could bolster its athletics program. With the football program set to begin its second year at the stadium, Georgia State is now looking ahead to the future.
Georgia State Stadium was first opened as Centennial Olympic Stadium for the 1996 summer games. Following the Olympics, it was converted into a ballpark for Major League Baseball’s Braves in time for the 1997 season. The Braves announced in 2013 that they would leave Turner Field after the 2016 season for a new ballpark in suburban Cobb County, which opened in 2017 as SunTrust Park.
Around the same time that the Braves’ signaled their move from Turner Field, the Atlanta area was facing another major change in facilities. The NFL’s Falcons were preparing to depart the Georgia Dome for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in 2017, leaving Georgia State football—which called the Georgia Dome home—to find a new facility.
“There was always a great need for a football stadium, because we had started football several years earlier and played our games at the Georgia Dome,” said Charlie Cobb, who has served as Georgia State’s athletics director since 2014. “The Georgia Dome was being knocked down and we had to either play at Mercedes-Benz or find a place of our own, so the opportunity (with Turner Field) presented itself.”
In 2015, the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority announced that Georgia State and real estate firm Carter had won a bid to repurpose Turner Field and develop the surrounding land. A sale of the property was later finalized, effectively allowing Georgia State to move forward with repurposing Turner Field, a plan that it had determined was a more viable option in comparison to building a new stadium.
“When we went through the analysis of building something new, it was cost prohibitive to build one in comparison to what already existed,” Cobb said. “What the stadium offered in terms of capacity, structures, and meeting space well exceeded what we could build brand new.”
From there, Georgia State had to make the facility as conducive to football as possible. Cobb said that it helped to have Heery International, which did the original Olympic Centennial Stadium design and later conversion to baseball, on board as the architect of record. Georgia State also explored existing MLB facilities that host bowl games, which Cobb said allowed it to have “some real-life examples” on how to configure a football field and seating into a ballpark.
The first game at the newly christened Georgia State Stadium was played on August 31, 2017. Georgia State ultimately went on to have a 7-5 record during the 2017 season, and its victory in the Cure Bowl marked the first bowl game win in program history. Opening Georgia State Stadium provided a boost to the program, not just from a facilities perspective but also in building its identity.
“I think the best part is that there’s really a great history to the stadium,” Cobb said. “The space also speaks big time, and that’s what we’re trying to build: a very big-time, successful program. To have the infrastructure in place, it elevates what we’re trying to accomplish.”
The stadium is a significant component of a larger initiative for Georgia State. The university is part of a team led by Carter that is planning a community development project for the surrounding area, which will include the construction of several mixed-use buildings. Not only does the development plan better connect Georgia State Stadium to downtown Atlanta—a goal that proved elusive during the Turner Field years—but also bolsters Georgia State athletics. Down the road, the university is looking to build a convocation center north of Georgia State Stadium, with a new baseball facility slated for what was once the site of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
While the development component will raise Georgia State’s profile, it should also be a boost to its athletic programs. Cobb noted that building new athletic facilities closer to Georgia Sate’s campus, located just north of Georgia State Stadium in downtown Atlanta, is a major goal for the university, and that this project should resolve that issue.
“One of the challenges for our program that currently exists and that we hope to rectify in the near term is the proximity of our facilities to our campus,” he said. “To create this community within the confines of downtown, within the confines of campus, is going to elevate all of our programs.”
Another key aspect of Georgia State Stadium is its ability to host events outside of Georgia State football. A Foo Fighters concert took place at the stadium in April, serving as a signal that Georgia State is ready for a venue that hosts major events outside of its football games.
“To have a facility and to have a staff to be able to pull off a major event like that, it was a special night for our campus and kind of sold the vision that we’re going to use the stadium besides just playing Georgia State football games,” Cobb said. “We want to do about 10 or 12 stadium events a year, with a predominant number of those being football games of different types, but we’ve got plans. We’d love to have a bowl game here, we’ve done some high school games, and we’re really going to use this as a multipurpose facility.”
Georgia State Stadium is serving many components. It is an anchor in a larger development, a step in a broader athletics facilities plan, and perhaps a platform for growth for the university’s football and other athletic programs.
“What I hope the stadium accomplishes is that it is the platform for the big ideas and vision not only for our football program, but our athletics program,” Cobb said. “I think, specifically for the stadium piece of this, people recognize that this is an iconic venue, and Georgia State football resonates with not only our fan base and alumni but also people in Atlanta regionally. Our kids are excited about playing in the stadium, and it also provides great customer service and a great gameday experience for people coming to events.”
Images courtesy Georgia State Athletics.
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