By Maria Saporta
The Atlanta United soccer team will not be building its training complex and headquarters in DeKalb County after all.
Rich McKay, president and CEO of the Atlanta Falcons, said Friday afternoon that now the team is turning its focus on a 32-acre site in Marietta along Franklin Road.
“We are not going to be able to do the DeKalb site because it ended up not being feasible from an environmental and geotechnical point.”
When asked how much more DeKalb would have needed to spend to prepare the site for the soccer training facility, McKay said: “It would have been in excess of $20 million.”
Atlanta United had planned to build the training facility on a 41-acre site near Memorial Drive and I-285. It would have been built in two phases with the first one estimated to cost about $35 million. The second phase would have brought the total project to $51 million.
DeKalb County issued a release late Friday afternoon saying the site analysis revealed “higher-than-anticipated site preparation and remediation costs necessary for a project of this nature.”
The release went on to say that DeKalb and Atlanta United reached a mutual conclusion that the site was not a viable location for the project.
“As Interim CEO, I always am looking for opportunities for collaborations where all sides come out winners,” DeKalb’s Lee May said in a statement. “After reviewing the reports with Atlanta United FC, we decided together that the numbers going into it have changed so much that proceeding would not be a responsible decision for either party, and certainly not the DeKalb taxpayers. We hope to work with Arthur Blank on another project in the future.”
McKay said the decision to locate in DeKalb was entirely financial, and he said DeKalb officials had been strong partners. McKay said they were all surprised by how much more expensive it would have been to prepare the site than had been previously estimated.
“It became not feasible for DeKalb County, not feasible for us and certainly not feasible for the DeKalb taxpayers,” McKay said.
But McKay went on to say that the DeKalb site could work for uses other than for professional soccer fields, which need to have a stable foundation so that there is no uneven soil settlement that would have impacted the playing surfaces.
When the preliminary agreement had been reached with DeKalb, Atlanta United executives – including McKay, Darren Eales, president of the club; and Arthur Blank, the owner – all touted the proximity to MARTA. The site in Marietta does not served by MARTA.
“We are disappointed we won’t have that,” McKay said. “The one negative is that this site in Marietta is not close to MARTA. It is right off I-75 so it will be very accessible – just not by transit.”
McKay said the soccer complex still will need to have further negotiations with Marietta and be approved by its City Council.
The plan is to go ahead and build both Phase One and Phase Two at the same time – six fields rather than the seven that had been planed in DeKalb – to be able to accommodate youth soccer programs.
McKay said it is expected that the total project cost will be more than the $51 million that had been estimated for DeKalb.
“The business deal we had had in DeKalb was superior to the business deal we negotiated in Marietta,” McKay said.
One other advantage of the DeKalb proposal had been the plans by Atlanta United and the Blank organization to help rejuvenate that section of the county, which has not had significant developments in decades.
But Eales added that the area in Marietta where the facility will be located “also needs regeneration.”
Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank did issue the following statement:
“We are grateful for DeKalb County’s partnership in working through the due diligence process,” Blank said. “After reviewing the reports together, we are in agreement that the economics of the site have changed so significantly that neither party is comfortable asking the DeKalb taxpayers to take on the additional financial burden. Unfortunately, the site just doesn’t work for this specific project.”
Atlanta United would like to start construction as soon as possible so that the team can begin training at the site in January, 2017, Eales added. Atlanta United’s first season is scheduled to begin in March 2017.