Atlanta can get stadium right this time with community benefits agreement
By Guest Columnist HATTIE B. DORSEY, president of HBDorsey & Associates and founding past president of the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership
“A city of aspiration embraces the fundamental principal that one of the historic roles of cities has been to nurture and grow a middle class.” — Joel Koplin, lecturer in 2007 for the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation lecture series
“The neighborhoods of Vine City and English Avenue have suffered too long, mistakes were made in the past, but we can fix this – we can do this.” — Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed
Let me start off by stating I am elated the Falcons will stay in Atlanta. I applaud Arthur Blank, the Mayor Kasim Reed, and the Atlanta City Council for working together to keep them here. Now it is imperative that the new stadium has a sustainable benefit on the neighborhoods that surround it – Vine City, English Avenue and Castleberry Hill.
Why is the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) an important document? The answer is both simple and complex. Representing two ministerial leaders, Rev. W.L. Cottrell, Vine City, and Rev. Anthony Motley of English Avenue, I submitted a proposal to enact a Community Benefits Agreement, rather than a plan, to the Atlanta City Council.
The CBA is a legal, binding document for all parties – the city, stadium and communities. A plan outlines “intent,” and these communities have shelves of plans. As a result of the petition, and aided by other voices, the Council approved an amendment to develop a CBA that is to be approved by council prior to the initiation of bond funding.
It is well documented that Atlanta’s history of building sports stadiums in impoverished neighborhoods has provided minimal positive economic impact for residents and businesses that reside in those communities. The Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium decimated the Summerhill, Mechanicsville and Pittsburgh neighborhoods. The resulting stadium turned vacant lands into parking lots that remain to this day.
The Olympic Stadium (Turner Field) was built. Its funding and presence have not realized measurable economic benefits for either residents or businesses in surrounding communities.
The Georgia Dome displaced a small neighborhood called “Lightning.” The commitment to Vine City (the neighborhood immediately impacted) to establish a $10 million trust fund did not bring about substantial change. The fund included $8 million committed from hotel-motel taxes and $2 million to be raised from the private sector that never materialized. The funds had a three-year cycle, which was not enough time to implement a redevelopment plan.
In the rush to cement “the deal,” verbal promises are made and sometimes committed to paper as “intent,” without the ability to enforce the promises. This is why a CBA becomes a critical tool for equitable development in communities impacted by large-scale development.
Such agreements in other cities have proven to help change the surrounding neighborhoods for the better – new businesses that bring year-round jobs, a mix of housing, improved schools, increased safety and lower crime rates.
This is what the neighborhoods of Vine City, English Avenue, and Castleberry Hill desperately need and want — to leverage and profit from the potential opportunities the new stadium will create in bringing about change.
This time, the communities have the benefit of many lessons learned in Atlanta and from best practices borrowed from other cities. We now know the components necessary to rebuild communities and neighborhoods that have had positive results using holistic approaches in our own backyard tackling a variety of issues that change the viability of a community’s existence.
I live in such a neighborhood that stands as an example — the Old Fourth Ward. It is where my family once lived, and it is where I attended David T. Howard High School. Once a proud middle-income African-American neighborhood where the birth home of Martin Luther King Jr. exists, it was in a state of deterioration in the early 1990’s.
Led by a strong community development organization and supported by a mix of funding support, it is now a neighborhood of choice; offering a variety of housing, opportunity, green space, the Atlanta BeltLine and great neighbors.
The Atlanta Housing Authority’s East Lake and Techwood housing projects employed holistic approaches not only to improve their properties, but to contribute to and transform entire neighborhoods.
It did not happen overnight taking about 20 years. Ask anyone involved and they will tell you that it was not easy. But each makes the case that it can be done, and the spirit of Atlanta can be tapped to make it happen.
What the current stadium neighborhoods have up front are commitments from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to set aside $15 million for community program initiatives, and from the city, through Invest Atlanta, to set aside $15 million in Tax Allocation District funds, which has its limits on how it can be spent – primarily on physical development.
We all recognize that these funds are not nearly enough to get the job done in neighborhoods that have been isolated for too many years, but these resources are a beginning. With the support of Mayor Reed and Arthur Blank, a holistic approach can materialize, and they can engage the private and philanthropic communities of Atlanta to participate.
The Atlanta City Council, working with Mayor Reed, did its job. Now the next phase is to develop a binding and inclusive Community Benefits Agreement, not another plan, in collaboration with community leaders that will establish responsibility on all sides – the community, the city and the stadium.
Atlanta can do this – it must, this time!