During an appearance at a joint meeting of the Marietta Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, Blank was asked a host of questions, but perhaps the most interesting response came when he was asked about the Braves move out of downtown Atlanta and into Cobb.
“I want to be thoughtful about my answer,” Blank said after hesitating for a moment. “I think the Braves ... I think they were stuck between a rock and a hard place. I think their current site is not served by public transportation. It’s obviously not easy to get downtown during the week for a game fighting that traffic … I probably would have ended up doing the same thing, but I know they worked hard to try to stay in the city.”
Blank pointed to key differences between the Braves’ Turner Field and the site of the planned new Falcons stadium. Namely, the lack of development near Turner Field, the lack of a MARTA station nearby and the difficulty of getting cars to the site.
Though Blank said he’s “an Atlanta guy” and would have worked hard to keep the team in the city, he acknowledged the Braves tried to work with Atlanta leaders.
“I don’t think they were thrilled about making a move,” said Blank, 71.
“But I think they’re thrilled about coming to Cobb County. Cobb County will be a great address for them. It is only 12 miles from where they were before. It’s still Atlanta.”
Finishing his answer, Blank also couldn’t resist making a joke about former Braves owner Ted Turner, who said just a few weeks ago he would have kept the team downtown if he was still the owner.
Blank said Turner probably realized the new stadium wouldn’t be named after him and that might be the reason for his opposition.
Blank’s new stadium for the Falcons will be right next to the Georgia Dome, and while groundbreaking is set for May, construction is already well underway.
Both stadiums were announced around the same time, and both are set to open in 2017. He said the new Falcons stadium should cost $1.2 or $1.3 billion.
The event was held at the Marietta Conference Center, with former Rotary president Mitch Rhoden asking the questions.
Blank built his wealth as a co-founder of Home Depot along with Bernie Marcus. He left the company to purchase the Falcons in 2001 and has been focused on his NFL team ever since, though he might be adding a second pro sports team soon.
MLS franchise coming to Atlanta?
The other big topic of the day was the swirling rumors that a Major League Soccer expansion team will be awarded to Atlanta in the next several days, playing in the same stadium as the Falcons with Blank as the owner.
Former Marietta Mayor Bill Dunaway brought up the subject when he was introducing Blank.
Dunaway said he wouldn’t speculate as to what kind of new pro sports team Blank might own soon, but added he was a big fan of the Atlanta Chiefs, a pro soccer team that played here in the 1970s.
Blank first brought up soccer when talking about his kids.
“My kids all have an interest in soccer and the sport Bill alluded to earlier was soccer,” he said.
“I’m not going to tell him anything he doesn’t already know. We are very close to making an announcement on a professional MLS soccer franchise in Atlanta.”
Blank’s words met loud applause from the audience.
“There are a couple of little issues left that we have to get resolved, but we’re close to getting those resolved. When we do announce it, we will announce it in Atlanta. It will be a very exciting event for our city, the region and the state.”
At Blank’s side during his appearance was Angie Macuga, a woman he recently got engaged to who had worked for Dunaway during her high school days.
Is football safe for kids?
Of course, there were also plenty of questions about Blank’s existing team. He said he would not be worried about his teenage sons playing football and said the NFL has been on the cutting edge of new safety technology.
Blank also acknowledged he makes no football decisions as owner, focusing on the business side of the team.
“I have the power, because I own the team, to essentially do whatever I would like,” he said. “But that’s a dangerous position to be in. I don’t put myself in a position where I make any football decisions. My football decisions are to hire the best personnel folks I can, the best coaching staff I can, given our financial resources.”
He also promised the Falcons will have a better record than their dismal 4-12 in 2013.
“We’ll certainly have a better record than we did last year,” he said.
But Blank also noted the Falcons had never had back-to-back winning seasons before he became owner in 2001, and they had five straight from 2008-12. Three minor coaching changes were made in the off season, and the Falcons have 10 picks in the upcoming NFL draft.
“I’m sure we’ll be back to where we have been.”
As a thank-you for his appearance, Blank was given a caricature of himself drawn by local artist Mary Stoddard.