By David Pendered
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to correct a councilmember’s name.
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 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.
Of the three measures, the community benefits deal has received the most public attention. It also has a fiscal impact: Atlanta can’t provide the $200 million it promised to help build the new Falcons stadium until a deal is approved.
The negotiations have served as a political stage for Mayor Kasim Reed, council President Ceasar Mitchell, and Councilperson Michael Julian Bond. Given that their reelection to current office on Nov. 5 was all but guaranteed, each had latitude on the committee to stretch as they sought to solidify a political base and reach out to potential supporters for future aspirations.
The task force on the Turner Field area offers another opportunity for political positions, governance and even leadership. The task is clear-cut: “Identify recommendations for commercial and residential development, public safety, and transportation opportunities in the neighborhoods in the vicinity of Turner Field.”
Mitchell recommended the task force be created and it’s to meet for up to six months with the possibility of extension for an additional six months, according to the legislation.
The 20 members who will be asked to serve on the group that’s to be chaired by Councilmember Carla Smith, whose district includes Turner Field, include:
- Braves or their designee;
- State Rep. Margaret Kaiser, a Democrat mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate in 2017;
- Sen. Nan Orrock, a Democrat who’s served since 1987 in the House or Senate.
- A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, or a designee;
- Georgia State University President Mark Becker, or a designee.
The task force proposal was signed by 10 councilmembers, including at-large member Aaron Watson, whose name was misspelled as “Arron” on perhaps the last piece of legislation he will sponsor this session. Watson was defeated by Mary Norwood.
Turning to the community benefits deal, the outcome rarely seemed in question.
The version now pending council approval provides a basic structure for spending $15 million, in Atlanta taxpayer dollars, on brick-and-mortar projects in Vine City, English Avenue, Castleberry Hill and a portion of Marietta Street. It also provides guidelines for the Blank Family Foundation to spend an additional $15 million in human-service programs in the same stadium neighborhoods.
One huge wish that wasn’t fulfilled was for the deal to be an iron-clad agreement. In other cities, community benefits agreements are signed by community leaders and the developer, which in this case would be the Falcons or possibly the state of Georgia. This format provides accountability for the outcomes. Atlanta chose not to pursue that structure.
One civic leader went so far as to call for specific claw-back provisions if the money wasn’t spent as promised, but Deborah Scott, of Georgia Stand Up, was not able to get that language inserted during negotiations that ended last week.
Finally, the slate of improvements proposed for the central business district are the result of a task force created by the council in January.
The recommendations were not available on the city’s website. The legislation that created the task force called on it to create a master plan that would capitalize on, “several major projects planned for Downtown, including:
- “The National Civil Rights Museum;
- “College Hall of Fame;
- “Multi Modal Passenger Terminal (MMPT);
- “New Falcons Stadium;
- “Turner Field Redevelopment.”