New Stadium Plan Sparks Gentrification, Neighborhood Concerns

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With additional reporting by Marko Robinson, Staff Writer

(APN) ATLANTA — Arthur Blank, a billionaire and owner of the Atlanta Falcons, a football team, wants a new, better stadium, in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood, just down the street from where the Georgia Dome currently sits.

The current Dome is operated by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA), an entity created by the State of Georgia for that purpose.

The current Dome was built in 1992 for 214 million dollars [396 million in current dollars].  Other than the Falcons, the Dome hosts yearly tournaments like the ACC basketball championships, the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Men’s Final Four, and the SEC football championship.  

The Dome for fiscal year 2009-10 had total operating revenue of 22.39 million dollars, total expenses of 17.08 million, and 5.31 million dollars in profit, according to a 2010 report by the GWCCA.  Total attendance in the Dome was 1.19 million people in 2008, 1.26 million in 2009, and 1.33 million in 2010.

Blank wants a new stadium that will cost an estimated 947.7 million dollars, and that may go over one billion dollars.  Blank wants to begin construction by 2014 and end by 2017.

Blank envisions a stadium development on a total of 28 acres, with 65,000 permanent seats; ten thousand temporary seats; 7,500 club seats; 110 private suites; a retractable roof; and a large surface parking lot that can accommodate trucks.

However, residents of the Vine City, English Avenue, and Atlanta University Center neighborhoods are concerned about gentrification in their neighborhoods due to a number of possible and pending projects, including the proposed new stadium, that each could come online at the same time.

Residents are also asking questions about how their community will truly benefit, if at all, and what unforeseen consequences there may be for themselves and their neighbors, from the stadium.

“The development of the stadium is not a separate issue, because along the Northside Corridor there is also projected to be the impact by a Multimodal Passenger Terminal as well as the development project, Mims Park,” State Representative-elect “Able” Mable Thomas–who next month will return to the Legislature after a four-year absence, and who represents that area–told Atlanta Progressive News.

“At some point all these things could be coming online at the same time cycle.  It could raise property values, especially in Vine City,” Thomas said.

“The biggest concern would be for seniors, some type of relief for senior citizens because they’re more likely to be on a fixed income.  Seniors in situations where they don’t want to move at this stage in their life,” Thomas said.

As previously reported by APN, a disproportionately high number of seniors died in the two to three year period following their displacement from the Palmer House senior high rise by the Atlanta Housing Authority in 2009.

“Yes, I have concerns about gentrification and any use of eminent domain.  What we want to be known as is a residential area, and not just a commercial corridor.  We do not want to be known as a playground for the rich,” Thomas said.

Thomas plans to “closely monitor the process and be in touch with elected officials at the city, state, and county levels to assure these issues are not on the table through zoning or any land use committees.  You have to follow it through zoning and land use issues.”

“Residents wants to be part of new development and progress in the area,” Thomas said.

When asked what residents’ opinions about the stadium are, Thomas said they are mixed.  “There are some that are against it, they figure it’s not needed.  Others see the opportunity for positive growth and development in the area.  Because there has not been a lot of positive growth, some people believe there may be some benefit that may be drawn, development to create jobs or community benefit agreements that could be implemented.”

“The community would like to have more expansive Community Benefit Agreements that include business opportunities inside the stadium and outside the stadium, as well as joint ventures, subcontracting opportunities, and construction jobs, et cetera,” Thomas said.

“We are committed to retaining our historic intown communities, even as Midtown comes closer to Bankhead.  We do not want to just become ‘West of Downtown.’  We want to retain our historic intown communities such as English Avenue, Vine City, Washington Park, AU Center,” Thomas said.

When Turner Field was developed in 1996, originally as Centennial Olympic Stadium, a community benefit agreement was put in place that was supposed to help the surrounding neighborhoods, including the Mechanicsville, Peoplestown, and Summerhill neighborhoods.  Neighborhood activist Mattie Jackson helped negotiate the agreement.

As a result, the SMP Community Fund, Inc., doing business as Good Neighbors, was created in order to use about eight percent of parking revenue to fund programs and project to benefit the community.  The SMP Community Fund is a non-profit overseen by the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority.

However, the original agreement as to how the money was to be disbursed, changed, when new people joined the SMP Board.  Since the fund’s inception, the money had been split between three neighborhood associations: the Peoplestown Revitalization Corporation, SUMMECH, and the Summerhill Neighborhood Development Corporation.

But in 2011, the Board decided to start shifting some of the money to other organizations, something that, according to Dr. Dwanda Farmer, meant that the money was redirected from organizations that historically provided meaningful affordable rental housing and meals for seniors, to organizations that used the money for neighborhood beautification projects.

Farmer also pointed to downsides to having a stadium in one’s neighborhood, including traffic, parking, “the police talking to you crazy,” and an increase in car break-ins, which she said leads to higher personal car insurance rates for people living in the zip codes surrounding the stadium.

Numerous academic studies have also shown that spending taxpayer dollars on a new stadium tends not to bring in sufficient new revenue to justify the expense.

Richard “Rick” H. Burton, a David B. Falk Professor of Sports Management at Syracuse University, says cost overruns involving stadium development typically add up to five to ten percent of their original estimated price.

New stadiums “are often built out of hubris/ego but more often for the new revenue stream the new stadium can generate.  Rarely is the new stadium built in order for the team to be sold.  Why?  Because the owner wants to strut around the new stadium he/she just built,” Burton told APN.

However, “as soon as the owner can flip it,” they will, Burton said.  “Remember, sports is often viewed as a real estate play.  There is land and there are assets with goodwill on the land.”  

Burton doubts a stadium would have as positive an economic impact in the community as would other potential projects, like a plant or hospital, in creating jobs.  

Andrew Zimbalist, a Roberts A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College, tells APN that “unless they are largely funded privately, they [stadiums] are a substantial drain on the public budget.”

If they occupy fifteen to thirty acres of urban land and are used ten to fifteen days a year, they are a bad investment for that land to create jobs, Zimbalist said.

“They do not generate sufficient economic activity or tax revenue to justify this investment on economic grounds alone,” he said.

One group, Common Cause Georgia, has been organizing public forums to provide Atlantans with a greater opportunity to give input regarding the proposed project.

“We want to make sure the public has a chance to weigh in on these issues and more,” William Perry, Executive Director of CCG, told APN, adding that the group is not “for or against the stadium, we just want to make sure the public has a seat at the table.”

(END/2012)

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