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Falcons building community with service work
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ATLANTA (AP) — As NFL labor woes keep his players away from football, Falcons owner Arthur Blank and his employees worked Thursday to build a place for kids to play.

Blank and about 150 of his employees assembled playground equipment, shoveled mulch and painted murals at Vine City Park. The playground was built only a few blocks from the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons play their home games.

A donation from Blank help start the process of clearing abandoned buildings for the park's groundbreaking in 2009. This year, a $25,000 grant from the Falcons Youth Foundation helped fund the community playground.

"It's a wonderful community with a rich history," Blank said. "To see us do this in the shadow of the Georgia Dome, where we have an opportunity to give back and do it in connection with this community that's a part of us, is great."

Byron Amos, who lives near the park, said the landscaping and the playground equipment will help unite the neighborhood.

"I see it as a focal point for our community," Amos said. "We have been without a playground for 15 to 20 years.

"We use this park already, and the kids have been anxiously waiting for this. They remind me every day."

Blank and general manager Thomas Dimitroff filled wheel barrows with mulch while coach Mike Smith joined a team working to assemble a seesaw and a slide.

"I've got two left hands," Smith complained with a smile. "Putting the seesaw together has been a challenge. But it sure is fun and it's a lot of teamwork by a lot of people. That's the fun part."

Others painted murals that were designed by students at nearby Kennedy Middle School.

Blank gathers his employees every year to tackle a community project.

This year's project came as the Falcons' plans for the 2011 season are on hold during the NFL lockout.

"The reason I have hope is we realize this is America's game," Blank said. "We realize the owners and the NFL and the players certainly have a responsibility to our fans."

Blank said he supports NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's call for the resumption of talks with the players union.

"As the commissioner has said repeatedly, regardless of what the judges and the courts and the attorneys may do, at the end of the day it is about both sides getting around a table and negotiating and reaching an agreement," Blank said.

"That's what it's going to take, and the sooner we start that, the better off we all are."

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