Atlanta Council Approves Controversial New Football Stadium


(APN) ATLANTA — On Monday, March 18, 2013, the City Council of Atlanta approved the extension of the Hotel Motel tax through 2050, in order to provide public funding for the construction of a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons football team, in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood, in a vote of 11 to 4.

As previously reported by APN, the new stadium will be just blocks from the old stadium, and will cost about one billion dollars, 800 million of which will be contributed by the Atlanta Falcons Stadium Corporation (Stadco).

At first, the Legislature was to consider issuing revenue bonds for the State of Georgia to finance the new stadium, which received the support of Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. However, the issue got punted to the City of Atlanta after it became clear the Legislature would not support the costly project.

The four votes against the new stadium were Councilmembers Kwanza Hall (District 2), Felicia Moore (District 9), Howard Shook (District 7), and Alex Wan (District 6). All other Councilmembers voted in favor.

A majority of Councilmembers rushed the legislation through without any opportunity for public comment on the final legislation, and without going through even a single Committee cycle.

Councilman Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large) led the rush by introducing the controversial legislation as a personal paper at the end of the meeting: a legal, but common anti-democratic practice of this Council for such significant and controversial legislation.

Moore made a motion to refer the legislation to the Finance/Executive Cmte, which she Chairs, noting that the Cmte had even voted to schedule a Work Session on the stadium deal, that had yet to take place.

The motion to refer failed 5 to 10. Councilwoman Natalyn Archibong (District 5) joined Hall, Moore, Shook, and Wan in supporting the motion to refer.

In addition, Councilmembers Keisha Lance Bottoms (District 11) and Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large), who essentially serve as agents of Mayor Reed, sped the process along even further, each by calling the question–a procedural move that, by majority vote, ends debate–at different points during the meeting.

The legislation did several things and also included four amendments.

First, the legislation extended the Hotel Motel Tax, from the current expiration date of December 31, 2020–the date associated with the payoff of costs from the existing stadium–to December 31, 2050.

The City of Atlanta is currently levying the tax at a rate of seven percent on hotel and motel visits, and is required under Georgia law to spend 39.3 percent of that money each year on funding a multipurpose domed stadium facility in the City.

The remaining portions of the tax proceeds, all or in part, will indirectly support the Falcons and the new stadium as well.

The legislation turns the project over to the Atlanta Development Authority (Invest Atlanta) and tasks the ADA with issuing 200 million dollars in revenue bonds, backed by projected future Hotel Motel Tax revenues, to pay for the construction of the new stadium.

Stadco is also required to pay 50 million dollars for associated infrastructure costs, and 20 million dollars for site acquisition.

The Arthur Blank Family Foundation is required to pay 15 million dollars towards “community development initiatives” in “the neighborhoods immediately impacted;” and Invest Atlanta is required to pay 15 million dollars in TAD money [although the TAD money has always been intended to be used for community development anyway, so it is not clear how this is new money].

The four amendments were as follows:

Councilwoman Carla Smith (District 1) offered an amendment to make sure that no General Fund dollars were used for any aspect of the new stadium; Councilman Wan offered a “friendly amendment” to the amendment to say that nor would General Fund dollars pay for related infrastructure costs.

However, Moore objected that as long as the Mayor’s Office and Administration expend time and energy on this project, that those are General Fund costs, and that putting the amendment in there does not prevent the Council from going back and changing it later.

Second, Councilman Bond offered an amendment to require the development of a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) prior to the distribution of bond proceeds. However, CFO Jim Beard objected that investors would not invest in a bond if their proceeds were not certain.

Meanwhile, Wan objected–echoing community concerns–that if a CBA is developed after the fact, there is no way to know that the neighborhoods are going to receive everything they want.

Indeed, the amendment states that the plan is required to be developed in concert with the community, but language requiring that it be adopted in concert with the community was removed–apparently by Mr. Bond–before the amendment came to the floor.

Councilman Willis then attacked Wan for questioning what it is best for a community that he does not represent. Wan responded that Bond would not be accomplishing what he said he wanted to accomplish by passing the legislation.

The amendment finally passed with new language acceptable to Beard and the Law Department, that the CBA would be adopted before the bonds were even issued in the first place. Still, ultimately, the Council–not the community–gets to decide what the CBA contains.

The third amendment, by Councilman Ivory Lee Young (District 3), requires a 20 million dollar contingency fund for cost overruns by Stadco.

The fourth amendment, by Councilman Bond, requires quarterly status reports to the City Council on the stadium.

Numerous citizens showed up at the Full Council meeting to voice their opinions on the stadium, with the comments mixed.

Those in favor included representatives of the business community, as well as citizens wearing yellow signs in support of the new stadium. The main theme of their comments was that the stadium represented new jobs for the community, including short-term construction jobs.

“There were about two rows of people that said… vote yes. Some of them are gone because their bus done came to get em. Which means it was an organized, which is no problem, I ain’t mad at ‘em. But I just want the record to know that somebody organized those people to come down to say vote yes,” State Rep. “Able” Mable Thomas noted in her remarks.

“We began to do a secret shopper, or a small survey, and we asked the people where they live. Some of the people who came down to say vote yes live as far away as College Park, Douglasville,” Thomas said.

Activist Steve Carr recounted examples from Atlanta’s long history of public policy choices surrounding housing and development that have harmed low-income, predominantly Black communities.

“Atlanta Civic Center decimated Buttermilk Bottoms [a former historic Black neighborhood], and there is [were] no benefits for the surrounding communities including the Fourth Ward. Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, to get pro baseball, and Turner Field, for the Atlanta Braves, eliminated part of Summerhill – again neglected Summerhill, Pittsburgh, and Mechanicsville,” Carr said.

“What kind of improvements do you see there, except for that brick road and those nice lights that go from the stadium to the West End? What jobs do you see there? Do you see anyone travel there at night that don’t live in the neighborhood?” Carr said.

“Twenty-one years ago, how about the Dome, how about the Dome where is presently sits? How about Vine City, how about Westside, how about the Bluff? I don’t see any community benefits over there. And, you know where that storm water comes from? The buildout of the Georgia World Congress Center and the parking lots because there’s no retention ponds,” Carr said.

“We still owe a hundred million dollars on the Georgia Dome. The hotel-motel tax now will only pay back the money that we owe, which will not be paid back in full until July of 2020. In order to pay for a new stadium, the City will have to spend reserve funds and borrow future debt payments. It is irresponsible, we already have a stadium,” Glenn Wrightson said.

“An alternative proposal may involve pressure washing the Georgia Dome… The appeal of helping the poor may sound good, except development will likely displace the poor and enrich the developers. We need complete cost estimates and source of funding for all ancillary infrastructure,” he said.

“We have not been included extensively and inclusively, in the discussions around the contract. You haven’t spent enough time in the community to talk about what we want. There’s no agreement for it, it’s vague, and we cannot hold you nor the mayor, nor the Falcons or anyone else accountable for it,” Mother Mamie Moore, of the English Avenue Community Development Corporation, said.

“It destroys the religious heritage of many churches that have paved the way and served as safe houses throughout our history,” E. Taylor Doctor, a divinity student, said, referring to Friendship Baptist Church and Mount Vernon Baptist Church, which would be displaced by the project.

“They don’t care about jobs in the neighborhoods. They care about jobs in the neighborhoods just enough to get this thing built,” Baker Owens said.

“Arthur Blank has been a great businessman and a very charitable man. He’s donated 200 million dollars as Kasim Reed pointed out at the press conference. 200 million dollars in charitable donations. Well now, we’re supposed to give it back to him?” Owens said.

“The agreement for this says the Falcons will get a percentage of the hotel-motel tax. What happens when the hotel-motel funds zoom past 200 million dollars? Does anybody know? The Falcons keep getting that money. This isn’t going to be just 200 million dollars. The infrastructure costs for this are wildly understated. I haven’t heard one wit about what’s going to pay for the implosion of the Dome,” Owens said.

“We’re going to give a billionaire, the richest man who lives who lives within hundreds of miles of here, we’re going to give him hundreds of millions of dollars, more money than anyone in this room will ever see in their whole lives, that could do a lot of amazing stuff for the City, but it doesn’t go very far building that Dome,” Owens said.

“The community on Beckwood Court, that complex, they are very complexed about where they will go, if you take that opportunity and take their homes from them. You’re talking about moving Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s street. Dr. King is turning over in his grave, trust me. The fact that you want to take our history… Vine City has been trinkled down with some money, but go two streets over to the Bluff, it looks like a war zone,” Patricia Crayton said.

“For life of hotel-motel tax, through the year 2050, 882 million dollars will go to this stadium. The projections come from the World Congress Center for those funds,” William Perry, Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia, said.

“The summary you all received about a week ago that shows where all that money goes, to pay off the stadium first and then into five accounts where there’s waterfall that flows into. One of which is an events staging account, which means that money will pay for the SEC Championship while the revenue will go to the Falcons,” Perry said.

“To rush this through without community input is not right,” Deborah Scott, Executive Director of Georgia STAND-UP, said.