Turner Field Sale Documents Show Scarce Community Benefits
(APN) ATLANTA — Residents, activists, and students spent two years advocating for a Community Benefits Agreement for the Turner Field redevelopment. Not only was a CBA excluded from sale documents, but few shallow benefits were agreed to in the sale, Atlanta Progressive News has learned upon making an open records request.
Students, residents, and activists blasted the Atlanta City Council at the Tuesday, January 17, 2017 Full Council Meeting, after the City of Atlanta announced on January 05 the sale of Turner Field to Georgia State University and developer Carter.
Little did they know, however, that the agreement was signed and finalized back in August 2016, even though the deal was not officially closed until January 2017.
The CBA developed by the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition called for community jobs, job training, affordable housing, development without displacement, access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and college scholarships for area high school students.
However, GSU and Carter, in the sale document, only agreed that at least 28 percent of contracts would go to female or minority-owned businesses (Section 7.3); and to provide “work force” housing units (Section 29.1) that do not even meet the City’s definition of affordable housing (Municipal Code 54-1).
The so-called affordable housing requirement is for at least ten percent of housing units to be affordable at 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), and for only a period of fifteen years.
Based on the Atlanta region’s median income, GSU and Carter could charge rental rates at 1,000 dollars per month and call those units “affordable.” Families at 80 percent AMI already have options on the market.
The greatest unmet need is for units affordable to families making between 0 and 30 percent of the AMI, followed by 30 to 50.
The communities around Turner Field were working class neighborhoods before those residential blocks were destroyed for the stadium that preceded Turner Field.
These homes were destroyed for the pretense of a public benefit – and now that the bait and switch of a public benefit is complete, nothing is being done to restore the communities to a working class neighborhood.
The Coalition wanted the CBA in place before the Council abdicated its power to AFCRA, but this did not happen.
APN requested a copy of the sale documents from AFCRA on Monday, January 23, and showed up at the AFCRA office on January 24 asking to inspect the documents. AFCRA’s Executive Assistant, Vivienne Kerr, said there were no copies of the documents in the office: that the agency charged with disposing of a 30 million dollar asset had no copy of the sale agreement.
Kerr said she had to ask Executive Director Keisha Lance Bottoms, also a District 11 Councilmember, how to proceed.
AFCRA took three business days to provide the documents to APN. The Open Records Act permits a reasonable period not to exceed three days; it’s not clear why it’s reasonable for them to not have the documents in their office.
Councilwoman Carla Smith (District 1), who represents the affected communities, said she was not provided a copy; nor was Natalyn Archibong (District 5), chair of the Council’s Community Development Cmte. Activists didn’t have a copy. Suzanne Mitchell, who sidestepped the Coalition to negotiate with GSU and Carter, didn’t have a copy. Nor was a copy posted to the AFCRA website.
CITIZENS BLAST ATLANTA COUNCIL FOR BETRAYAL
“I want to remind the Council of a little something called mutiny. We’re not scared and we’re not asking anymore. We’re demanding that you get this right or it will be mutiny in this City because what you’re doing is unsustainable,” Taiza Troutman told the Council.
“I see folks who praise Dr. Martin Luther King, who praise all these Civil Rights leaders, and then sitting here hurting communities, gentrifying these neighborhoods,” Clarissa Brooks, a student at Spelman College, said.
“Stand with us and do the right thing or there’s going to be hell to pay,” Brooks said.
“This a sad day in Mechanicsville, Pittsburgh, Peoplestown, and Summerhill when our representatives, the ones that we voted in, don’t care about us,” Dr. Jane Ridley, President of the Mechanicsville Civic Association, said.
“We have worked on the CBA for two years, and I’ve been there every step of the way, except for the three months I was in the hospital and I had to recuperate for two months,” Dr. Ridley said.
“I turned around and came back to make sure our communities won’t be put together so that people like me, seniors who talked and walked and dealed with the Civil Rights action, now you tell me, now that I’ve worked to put 3/4 of you in office that I have to put up with some junk with Georgia State and Carter,” Dr. Ridley said.
“I have lived my life as perfect as I could a citizen, so I could be a symbol to these people,” she said, pointing to the young people in the audience. “You all are not.”
“You take money from the federal government to rehabilitate our communities, and you put stadiums on it. You take the land from us,” Dr. Ridley said, referring to how the City used the threat of eminent domain to clear several square blocks of working class homes to make way for the stadium that preceded Turner FIeld prior to the Olympics.
“I will go to the streets if I have to go in a wheelchair.. But you’re going to recognize us or we’re going to vote you out of office,” she said.
“Here we go again. These neighborhoods have been under attack for a long time. We’ve been through this before,” State Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) said, recalling earlier struggles around previous stadiums, the Olympics, and the Interstate.
“These communities are being ripped out from under us once again,” Sen. Fort said.
“Without a CBA, the Turner Field deal is a nonconsensual sale with nonconsensual development,” Sen. Fort said.
“A lot of work has gone into this,” Sen. Fort said, noting that the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition held resident organizing meetings, conducted a survey of some two thousand people, and participated in an Livable Centers Initiative.
“Conspicuously it remains unclear whether any provisions of the CBA were included in the deal signed by Georgia State and Carter,” Sen. Fort said – at the time the documents had not yet been obtained by APN.
Jabarey Wells of Morehouse College called for a CBA for not only Turner Field but all development projects valued at 500,000 or more.
Activists are particularly disgusted that the City is planning to take the 30 million dollar proceeds from the sale and spend it on an upgrade to yet another stadium, the Phillips Arena.
“When I heard the Mayor of this City and heard that the City Council had agreed to sell Turner Field and then take that 30 million dollars and put it into plush seats and God knows what else for a bunch of rich people to watch a basketball game, when people don’t have decent housing, clean water and air, good jobs, decent jobs, I thought where are your heads at?” Dianne Mathiowetz, 70, said.
“Some of y’all going to lose y’all seat. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool them all the time,” former State Rep. Douglas Dean (D-Atlanta) said.
“What the Council has done has given all of their the power on Turner Field to the Recreation Authority. I was disturbed we have allowed this Council and the Mayor’s Office to take some of the money from Turner Field and give it to Phillips Arena, that’s a disgrace,” Dean said.
“I already told them to put up a bond for me because we’re going to have to go to jail,” Dean said.
“I’m upset the same person who helped organize the Community Benefit Coalition will now say the people who are fighting for it don’t live in the community,” Dean said, referring to Suzanne Mitchell, Council President Ceasar Mitchell’s sister-in-law.
“But two and a half years, these people, it was all right because they wanted a crowd. They wanted a crowd to slip off and meet with Carter and Associates and Georgia State,” Dean said.
“The folks you are slipping around meeting with do not represent the community coalition that have been working together for the last two and a half years,” Dean said, referring to Suzanne Mitchell.
Suzanne Mitchell told APN that the citizens were not from the impacted communities, which is what the Trump Administration would call an alternative fact.
Mitchell said only residents from Summerhill have standing to seek community benefits, even though they clearly did not seek any meaningful benefits. When Turner Field was originally created, three communities–Summerhill, Mechanicsville, and Peoplestown–were given a revenue stream from parking sales.
Mitchell told APN that she believed the citizens did not want what was best for Summerhill, and that, in her view, there was already enough affordable housing in the community. Tens of thousands of Atlanta households continue to struggle with housing cost burden.