ANALYSIS: AFCRA Betrayed the Turner Field Communities
(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority (AFCRA) has officially invited developers to bid on Turner Field, despite the fact that the public input process regarding community benefits has just gotten started – a move that amounts to a stab in the back for residents of the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium.
Turner Field’s future has been up in the air since the Braves announced their relocation to Cobb County in 2013.
As Atlanta Progressive News previously reported, the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition formed in March 2014 to represent the residents of Summerhill, Peoplestown, Mechanicsville, and other nearby neighborhoods in a planning process enabled by a Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) grant.
The LCI process brings together developers, government officials, and community members to create a unified development plan. The LCI team recently commissioned Sycamore Consulting to craft the plan based on input from all stakeholders.
But now AFCRA, headed by Atlanta City Councilmember Keisha Lance Bottoms (District 11), is undercutting that process and robbing community members of a hard-won seat at the table.
Rather than prioritizing the needs of people who will be impacted by the redevelopment through a meaningful requirement that their ideas be incorporated, AFCRA’s Request for Proposals (RFP), released on October 02, 2015, merely states that developers should “Demonstrate a commitment,” to incorporating the LCI study results, language which is toothless as it is meaningless.
The RFP generally portends more of the same for neighborhoods that have historically experienced massive displacement of Black working class families due to development that was geared toward enriching a few at the expense of many.
In the 1960s, more than 10,000 homes in Mechanicsville and Summerhill were destroyed to make way for the Interstate, and an entire neighborhood was leveled for the Fulton County Stadium, where Turner Field’s parking lots are today.
In its RFP, AFCRA promises further displacement, this time in the form of gentrification.
The RFP includes thirteen redevelopment objectives that a successful proposal should fulfill. According to these objectives, the redevelopment of Turner Field should “Create significant economic value through…the generation of additional property and sales tax revenues,” and “positively impact local property values.”
But what are low-income families supposed to do in the face of the rising cost of living these objectives ensure, either through rising property taxes or rising rents?
To be sure, the AFCRA included a set-aside for affordable housing through another objective that prompts developers to “Demonstrate a commitment to a mixed-income community through the inclusion of workforce housing (to the extent residential is a component).”
The language AFCRA chose, “demonstrate a commitment,” does not denote any monitoring or enforcement of this objective.
However, the RFP’s definition of affordable housing–housing affordable at eighty percent of the Area Median Income (AMI)–means that those with the greatest unmet need for affordable units will not benefit from this set-aside.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the median annual income of the Atlanta metropolitan area is 68,300 dollars. 80 percent of that is 54,640 dollars.
So only ten percent of the units have to be affordable to families making $54,640.
A minimum wage earner working full-time in Atlanta makes a quarter of that amount.
The objectives are similarly lacking when it comes to community benefits.
One objective requires bidders to “Provide a source of quality construction and permanent jobs for area residents.”
But without further specification, developers are free to interpret what constitutes quality, permanent jobs. Many people who live near, and work at, Turner Field know all too well how those words too often describe low-wage seasonal work with no benefits.
AFCRA also states that they expect developers to “make a good faith effort to fill at least 50% of all new entry level positions created by the award of this contract with [participants in a city jobs program],” and “strongly encourages” respondents to subcontract with minority-owned and female-owned businesses.
Again, this is toothless rhetoric, where instead there could be concrete, enforceable requirements to hire locally and assemble a diverse team.
The story of the Turner Field communities is a case for reparations, and not a difficult one.
The 67 acres controlled by AFCRA is public land. It belongs to all of us, to use for the public good. It was taken years ago from working families in Atlanta, under the threat of imminent domain, for a purported public benefit that was supposed to be a sports stadium.
But that was all a bait and switch, because now that the public benefit of a sports stadium is expiring, instead of trying to give back to the community who has sacrificed so much, what we have is a bonanza for private developers to profit from the prior forced displacement of so many Atlantans, while bringing about a new wave of gentrification, the other forced displacement.
Atlanta has an incredible body of citizens who are informed, mobilized, and in the process of determining what should be done with the Turner Field land according to the needs of their communities.
AFCRA should rescind its RFP, apologize, and then await the results of the LCI study.