By David Pendered
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.
It’s not the contract that makes the vote stand out, though the city doesn’t always pay more than $1 a year in rent for a police precinct. In this case the issue is the actual precinct – it was firebombed by drug dealers soon after it opened in the 1990s. In another attack, gang members drove a vehicle through the building.
“That place became symbolic, in some kind of way,” said Councilmember C.T. Martin.
The council vote on the community benefits deal consummates negotiations that began in July and almost broke down in November. The $200 million in construction funds the council approved in March for the Falcons stadium was contingent upon the adoption of a community benefits deal that’s to provide three neighborhoods – Vine City, English Avenue and Castleberry Hill – with a total of $30 million. Half the sum, from the city, is to pay for brick-and-mortar improvements, and the other half, from Falcons owner Arthur Blank’s family foundation, is to pay for social welfare programs.
Council President Ceasar Mitchell walked out of the Nov. 20 meeting in protest of the way Councilmember Michael Julian Bond was running the committee. Each expressed outrage at the other’s behaviour.
In the conversation before Monday’s vote, several councilmembers offered remarks intended to be soothing in the conversation. The common themes were that the process of community revitalization has just started, and that the deal – while not perfect – is a tremendous step forward.
“At the end, we came up with a recommendation,” said Councilmember Joyce Sheperd, who did not serve on the Community Benefits Plan Committee. “This is just the beginning. This is not the end.”
Mitchell said he recognized that some may have expected him to be a “kill joy.” He said that wasn’t his intent: “I’m encouraged to hear from my colleagues that this process should continue. It was not perfect and we can do better.”
Bond commended committee members for sticking with the process during tough times and producing a benefits plan: “We’re committed to turning the community around. Through this process, we have matured as neighborhoods because we don’t need a go-between [to negotiate]. The communities sat at the table and they represented themselves. They did a damn fine job.”
Bond did not mention that he has already ruled that the benefits committee would be dissolved when it approved a benefits deal. Bond made that determination several months ago, when someone on the committee or in the audience asked if the committee could continue in an oversight capacity. The legislation that created the committee did not provide for it to do anything but contemplate a benefits deal, Bond said.