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A fan holds a scarf during a party at which Atlanta United FC was announced as the name of an MLS soccer expansion team, Tuesday, July 7, 2015, in Atlanta. The team is scheduled to begin to play in 2017 at the city's new retractable-roof stadium. (AP Photo/Branden Camp)

Atlanta’s new soccer team could be symbol for unity

Original Story on WABE By MARIA SAPORTA
Soccer fans still have to wait about a year and a half before they will be able to go to a match to see Atlanta’s pro team at the new downtown stadium. But when owner Professional soccer is heading to Atlanta, and fans are ready.  Arthur Blank officially unveiled the team’s new name – Atlanta United FC – and its new logo at a rowdy event Tuesday, and the crowd of 4,000 fans could not have been more excited!

When it comes to sports in Georgia, frenzy is usually associated with college football or NASCAR … maybe the Falcons, the Hawks or the Braves.

But soccer?

Well all that is beginning to change.

Soccer is already the most popular game in the world, and now it is solidly taking hold in Atlanta. We just have a team name and a logo, yet we don’t even have any players.

But the thousands of Atlanta fans who recently showed up at SOHO Lounge in west Midtown to see Blank and Don Garber — commissioner of Major League Soccer — were cheering so loudly, you would have thought we had just won a championship.

Garber was so pumped! He talked about how the new America is discovering soccer, adding, “This new America is right here in Atlanta.”

Some may think the name, Atlanta United, is boring. But Blank said that focus group after focus group suggested the theme of Atlanta was all about unity and coming together.

He looked around at the generational, ethnic and racial diversity of the people who gathered for the announcement and said, “This is Atlanta.”

He knew that was why the new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta United belonged in the heart of the city.

“Urban downtown stadiums are so exciting because they are attracting the people who are here tonight,” Blank said.

When the Georgia Dome hosted the soccer match between Mexico and Nigeria in March 2014, we witnessed the multicultural energy of that new America, of that new Atlanta.

Centennial Olympic Park and all of downtown had been transformed into our own United Nations. Yes, this is the future.

As one leader told me at the time … the Atlanta Braves are going to realize that their decision to move to Cobb County was so last century.

Thank you, Arthur Blank, for bringing professional soccer to the heart of the city and for uniting Atlanta in the 21st century.

Atlanta Hawks' Dennis Schroder, of Germany, practices on the court before the start of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Fate of Atlanta Hawks still unclear with new team ownership

Original Story on WABE By MARIA SAPORTA

Atlanta Hawks' Dennis Schroder, of Germany, practices on the court before the start of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sunday, Jan. 25, 2015, in Atlanta.

It would be ideal if the lead owner of the Hawks called Atlanta home. An owner who has deep roots in a community is less likely to move the team somewhere else. Tony Ressler, the new principal owner of the Hawks, is a Los Angeles businessman. Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

The new principal owner of the Atlanta Hawks, Tony Ressler, closed the deal on the city’s professional basketball team on June 24. At his first press conference, 24 hours later, the Los Angeles businessman said the team would now speak with one voice … a marked contrast to the past owners, the Atlanta Spirit Group.

Atlanta has welcomed Ressler with open arms. He enters the scene as the new lead owner of the Hawks, without baggage and with great hopes.

Maybe now we can get an NBA championship. Maybe now we can have a unified ownership group. Maybe now we can have a leadership group with no trace of tension or racism. With former NBA player Grant Hill by Ressler’s side, the leadership duo reflects the diversity in Atlanta — and the entire country.

So far, so good.

But there are a couple of yellow flags.

Ideally, the lead owner of the Hawks would call Atlanta home. An owner who has deep roots in our community is less likely to move the team to another city.

Living in Los Angeles and going to basketball games in Atlanta is less than ideal for Ressler and his family, although they have bought a residence in Buckhead.

When asked if he would commit to keeping the team in Atlanta forever, Ressler wiggled his way out of a straight answer. Maybe it’s just a negotiating ploy.

But Ressler is on record saying that Philips Arena will either need to be remodeled or replaced, that doing nothing is not an option. Will he commit to keeping the Hawks downtown? Ressler said he is not ruling out anything.

This is beginning to sound like an expensive proposition for Atlanta.

Perhaps Ressler is not aware that Philips Arena is one of the most successful entertainment venues in the country. It has consistently ranked in the top five arenas in the nation, only surpassed by Madison Square Garden over the years.

What a shame it would be if it gets caught up in the frenzy of discarding our relatively new facilities for even newer and more expensive venues for pro sports.

Let us hope Ressler comes to fully appreciate our downtown and our arena … that he doesn’t get us into a bidding war with a western city like Las Vegas, or that he doesn’t uproot the Hawks from the heart of Atlanta, next to MARTA, for the suburbs.

The symbol for Atlanta is the phoenix rising from the ashes, an apt metaphor for the Atlanta Hawks. Last season started in a firestorm and ended with the team having its best record ever.

A new owner gives us hope the magic will continue.

Please Tony Ressler – don’t let Atlanta down.

new Falcons stadium

New Atlanta Falcons stadium costs rise up to $1.5 billion

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank does not know how to say “No,” and that is costing him another $100 million.

During a panel discussion at the Rotary Club of Atlanta Monday on the rejuvenation of the westside neighborhoods, Blank let it slip out that we view the “$1.5 billion stadium” as an incredible investment.

As ground breaks for new Braves park, risk rises for men of iron

Shovels were a sign of excitement at last week’s groundbreaking for the new Atlanta Braves stadium in Cobb County, but they also recalled the grave dug for Jack Falls, who died in a construction accident on the old stadium.

He was killed in 1995 when a light tower he was working on collapsed at the Olympic Stadium, which became Turner Field. An engineer had miscalculated the load that the tower could bear. His family recently recovered a stone plaque from Turner Field that marks his legacy.

Stadium update: Opponents of city bonds say they are weighing options to appeal first ruling in city’s favor

Atlanta has won the first round of the legal fight over its authority to issue more than $278 million in bonds for the future Falcons stadium.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville ruled last week in the city’s favor. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s office issued a statement saying the mayor was “pleased” with the outcome.

However, the city cannot issue any bonds during the 30-day period during which the opponents can appeal the court ruling. Opponents said Sunday they are weighing their options and previously have said they would appeal an unfavorable ruling. They already have delayed a sale that was on a fast track in February.

Symbols old and new capture angst emerging around Falcons stadium

The Falcons stadium is the next “Peyton wall” of Atlanta, a lawyer said Monday, comparing the sports venue to an actual wall the city erected across Peyton Road in 1962 to separate black and white neighborhoods.

By another account, the stadium saga is Atlanta’s version of “Groundhog Day.” In the movie, actor Bill Murray relived the same depressing events day after day after day. Poor people are the protagonists in this comparison to real life.

Atlanta’s funding for Falcon stadium delayed at least seven weeks by judge

A seven-week delay in Atlanta’s schedule sell bonds to help pay for construction of the Falcons stadium was the immediate result of a court hearing Monday morning.

Bond validation petitions typically are open-and-shut matters. Lawyers for the government usually get a speedy ruling from a judge that allows the sale of bonds to proceed posthaste.

In the case of Atlanta’s bonds for the stadium, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Granville set the next date for a bond validation hearing for April 10. In the meantime, opponents of the bond issuance can begin gathering at least some of the evidence they intend to use to try to prevent the city from issuing $278.3 million in bonds to help finance the stadium.

New Falcons Staduim

Atlanta willing to pay 8 percent interest on Falcons stadium bonds

Atlanta is willing to pay an interest rate of up to 8 percent for the $278.3 million in revenue bonds it intends sell to provide construction financing for the new Falcons stadium.

To put that rate in perspective, Atlanta’s airport is paying rates ranging from 2 percent to 6 percent on its $3.1 billion in outstanding bonds, according to the airport’s 2013 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The airport bonds are paid with proceeds of airport revenues, passenger fees and federal grants.

These terms and others are cited in the bond validation petition that Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Granville is scheduled to hear Feb. 17. Opponents who think the stadium deal could do more than the current plan to transform nearby neighborhoods are expected to contest the bond validation.

The intersection of Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive is the mini downtown of Vine City. Credit: Donita Pendered

VIP parking at Falcons stadium to require big changes in MLK Drive

A planned VIP parking lot at the future Falcons stadium will require a virtual dead end of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at the stadium, and will affect the road’s ability to become the grand boulevard envisioned by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

[Scroll down the story to see a gallery of photos of the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive corridor.]

The first public discussion of this proposal is scheduled Tuesday morning during the Atlanta City Council’s Utilities Committee.

The Falcons contend fans will benefit from VIP parking and related traffic management plan that will enhance their game-day experience. Others disagree.

Auburn chaplain’s ‘broken road’ to BCS title game

At the start of the 2013 college football season, Chette Williams, chaplain of the Auburn University Tigers, said he told a reporter, “I hope our football team scores a lot of touchdowns for Jesus.”

Williams had no idea what miracles were coming, the preternatural last-second shifts of fortune that enabled Auburn to beat huge rivals—Georgia and No. 1-ranked Alabama—and end up squaring off against Florida State University tonight in the NCAA college football championship.

Williams documented his experiences in the 2013 book, “The Broken Road: Finding God’s Strength and Grace on a Journey of Faith” (Looking Glass Books). It chronicles the three-year spiritual climb by the Auburn players and coaches to their previous national championship at the end of the 2010 season.

Atlanta City Council

Atlanta City Council passes plan for Falcons stadium areas; deal releases $200 million from city for construction

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed prevailed Monday when the Atlanta City Council approved a community benefits deal that will release $200 million in city funds for the future Falcons stadium.

Reed wanted a deal done by year’s end, and the council approved the deal unanimously. But the issue may not be over: Some civic leaders threaten to file a lawsuit to overturn the benefits deal and block the funds.

Invest Atlanta expects to begin accepting applications for projects in January. In addition, the council is to appoint members to a committee it created Monday that’s intended to promote job creation in the stadium neighborhoods.

As if to underscore the extent of blight in stadium neighborhoods, the council approved a $59,126 contract to cover four years of back rent for a police precinct in Vine City.

Atlanta City Council to seek Braves advice on fixing Ted area, pass Falcons community benefits deal

Never let it be said that the Atlanta City Council doesn’t have a sense of hope and humor.

The council will ask the Atlanta Braves to serve on a task force to recommend ways to spiff up the Turner Field area. The Braves intend to leave the Ted for Cobb County in the the 2017 season.

In addition, the council expects to adopt Monday the community benefits deal regarding the future Falcons stadium, which has riled some civic leaders, and a slate of recommendations on how to bolster Atlanta’s central business district – where the office vacancy rate is among the region’s highest.