Not two hours after being officially introduced as the Atlanta Hawks’ new controlling owner, Tony Ressler was seated in sixth-floor conference room at the ol’ AJC, meeting with our editorial board and some scroungy sports types who heard there was food available. In my scant 31 years at this paper, that marked a first: A team owner coming to meet/greet us. Big kudos for that.
Ressler and Grant Hill, who’s the vice-chair of the Hawks’ executive board, graciously sat still and answered our many queries. Under close questioning by cub reporter Kevin Riley — OK, he’s actually our editor, and I expect a pink slip any minute — Ressler allowed that there were three things the new owners could do about Philips Arena, which opened in 1999: Nothing, remodel or rebuild. And the first, Ressler said, “isn’t an option.”
(Ressler also described Philips as being “not in the upper quartile of arenas.”)
Which means that the new owners want a new arena, which is par for the course. (Arthur Blank wanted a new stadium from the moment he bought the Falcons, which wasn’t even 10 years after the Georgia Dome had opened.) Maybe it’ll be a redone Philips. Maybe it’ll be a rebuilt arena where Philips stands. Maybe it won’t.
Long before the Braves lit out for the Northern Arc, the Hawks wanted to do as much. In the early ’90s, Stan Kasten had a plan to build a new arena along Georgia 400. Ted Turner, who then owned the Hawks, said no. He wanted the Omni’s replacement to go where the Omni was standing, not least — or so legend holds — because Ted had a penthouse apartment at CNN Center and wanted to walk to games. As usually happened, Ted got his way.
Most cities building new arenas/stadiums are building them downtown. The Braves are the exception, but the Braves got a sweetheart deal from Cobb County. (And the Braves were mad at Atlanta, which they believed chose the Falcons over them.) As Ressler noted often, he and his group “are in the first 24 hours of being owners,” so it’s not as if they’ve picked a parcel of land. But that discussion — downtown versus the suburbs — will be coming soon.