Community cut out of community benefits deal at Falcons stadium; Mayor Reed ready to engage

By David Pendered

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is on track to wrap up on Dec. 2 the loose ends of the city’s promise to provide $200 million to the Falcons for a new stadium.

Mayor Kasim Reed (with microphone) describes his vision for his second term to the Northwest Community Alliance. Credit: Donita Pendered

Mayor Kasim Reed (with microphone) describes his vision for his second term to the Northwest Community Alliance. Credit: Donita Pendered

For that to happen, a committee that’s worked on a community benefits plan since July was told Wednesday night that it will not get to recommend a plan to the Atlanta City Council. The political fallout has already begun: Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell says the process has lost credibility; civic leaders talked Wednesday of filing a lawsuit to halt the process of providing the money to the Falcons.

While this controversy was erupting at City Hall, Reed was at a community meeting near Buckhead talking about a number of initiatives for his second term – including the demolition of Turner Field, after the Braves depart in 2017, in order to create a 57-acre tract that will be, Reed said, “wildly attractive to investment.”

In a nutshell, the events that unfolded so quickly Wednesday evening include:

  • Councilperson Michael Julian Bond – a Reed ally who chairs the Community Benefits Plan Committee – ruling that the committee has no plan to vote on;
  • That’s because, Bond said, he had introduced legislation to the council on Monday that will create the community benefits plan. The need for the committee to vote became moot once that legislation was filed, Bond ruled;
  • Reed said the community will have a chance to remain engaged in working out details of a community benefits deal. The deal is to guide the spending of a total of $30 million intended to renew blighted communities near the stadium – $15 million from the city and $15 million from the Blank Foundation;
  • The legislation is up for a vote Nov. 26 in the Community Development Committee, which is chaired by an ally of the mayor, Councilmember Joyce Sheperd. From there, the proposal would advance to a vote by the full council at its final meeting scheduled this year, Dec. 2.

The deal is critically important to the Falcons because, until the council approves it, Atlanta can’t provide any of the $200 million in construction funds promised to the Falcons.

Mayor Kasim Reed accepts a gift from Mike Koblentz, chairperson of the Northwest Community Alliance. The gift was a Life magazine featuring President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Credit: Donita Pendered

Mayor Kasim Reed accepts a gift from Mike Koblentz, chairperson of the Northwest Community Alliance. The gift was a Life magazine featuring President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Credit: Donita Pendered

Even after the council votes on a deal, the city will need a few months to get the money – time to finalize the bond package and get the bond issue validated by a Fulton County Superior Court judge.

Chances are that bond lawyers have already assembled the package. The market is expected to snap up the bonds because the revenue stream of Atlanta’s hotel/motel tax is so strong – even with the Braves moving to Cobb County.

Mitchell said after the meeting that the way the community was cut out of the community benefits deal was harmful and needs to be remedied. Mitchell, as council president, typically would know about newly filed legislation, but was absent from that part of Monday’s council meeting.

“I am afraid that a process already filled with distrust, from the outset, will now lose any remaining credibility needed to achieve a positive outcome so desperately needed,” Mitchell said after the community benefits meeting. “We have to put our heads together and find a way out of this mess.”

Reed said after his meeting with the Northwest Community Alliance that the time has come for him to become involved with the crafting of a community benefits plan.

Reed played a similar role in the final period of the high-wire negotiations with two historic churches that ended up selling to make way for the future Falcons stadium.

“I need to get more information,” Reed said when asked what he knew of the decision on a community benefits deal being taken from the committee and placed in the council.

“The bottom line is that what you’re going to see between now and in December is me focusing on the community benefits plan,” Reed said. “I think the process is now ripe for my personal engagement. I don’t know the answer to your question tonight. But what I can tell you is you’re going to see me personally involved as we come into the home stretch.”

Asked if there will be further community participation in the creation of the plan, Reed said: “The answer is, there will be.”

The community thought it was participating on Wednesday night.

About 15 speakers addressed the committee. Many of them asked the committee to delay voting on a final plan. They sought more time to weave their wishes into a final deal.

Mike Dobbins, a former city planning commissioner who now teaches at Georgia Tech, was among those advising the committee to slow down. Dobbins said important factors needed to be added to the plan, factors including storm water runoff, traffic congestion, a jobs programs described by Penny McPhee, president of the Blank Foundation, and a “development of regional impact” review to be conducted by the Atlanta Regional Commission.

“We need a strategy to find jobs for people who need jobs in these communities,” Dobbins said in closing.

The heady events Wednesday continue a dynamic few weeks in Atlanta’s history:

  • Reed has just returned from a quick trip to Panama, where he met with Panama President Ricardo Martelli and toured the Panama Canal expansion with Sen. Johnny Isakson and Vice President Joe Biden;
  • The Atlanta Braves announced Nov. 11 they were moving to Cobb County, and Atlanta’s mayor said he was fine with that because keeping the team would have been a bad deal for Atlanta taxpayers;
  • Atlanta’s payment of $200 million to the Falcons was looking like it would be bottled up until the first quarter of 2014 as civic leaders pondered the community benefits deal.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

13 replies
  1. Michael Julian Bond says:

    Dear David,
    I am compelled to write because your headline and account of what took place at the November 20 Community Benefits meeting are inaccurate and misleading. 
    Your source has done you, your readers and me a great disservice. The community was never cut out of the process. They were fully informed how the legislative process would proceed at the previous meeting and in subsequent private and public meetings with City officials as late as Wednesday afternoon.  They were made aware that the substance of the resolution that was introduced was produced by the committee at the previous meeting and was posted on Invest Atlanta’s website last Friday afternoon.  The resolution was always intended to be a place holder until the committee’s final recommendations –anticipated to come from Wednesday’s meeting–could be added to the resolution at the upcoming Community Development and Human Resources (CDHR) Committee meeting.  I was not present at the previous Community Benefits meeting because I was out of the city on business, but it is my understanding that the planned legislative process was not disputed when City staff proposed it. 
    The reason the legislation had to be introduced was to allow it to appear before the CDHR Committee and the full Council before the end of the legislative term, which expires December 2.  Any legislation not acted upon before the end of the term will “die a parliamentary death” in its respective committee. During Wednesday’s meeting, I apologized to those who may have felt they were being misled or who were confused about procedural actions taken this week.
    The characterization of my ruling is also inaccurate in your article.  The ruling was that the committee did not have the authority to amend legislation that is pending before a Council committee, but was free to make recommendations to the CDHR Committee to amend and/or affect the disposition of the legislation. Those who are dedicated and diligent–regularly attending committee members–did just that.  The committee’s opinion, input, deliberations and efforts have never been rendered moot by any step, procedure or ruling in these months long proceedings. After those seeking to disrupt the process failed and absconded, it was clear that those who remained were there to do the real work. 
    Though the process has been challenging, it has also been very rewarding.   I look forward to working continually with those who are dedicated to the improvement of the community. Lastly, while I consider myself to be collegial with all of my elected co-laborers at City Hall, I am the ally of the people of Atlanta, and no one should ever mistake that fact.  I hope this clarification is helpful to you and your readers.
    Sincerely,
    Michael Julian Bond, Post One At-Large, Atlanta City CouncilReport

    Reply
  2. War Eagle '77 says:

    WOW!!!! It is facinating to watch the politicians desparately trying to get control or the $30  million supposedly earmarked for “the community”.  To see the community cut out of the process by its chairman is SO GREAT!!!
    The only “community” Reed and has loyal cronies care about is the lining of their pockets.
    WAKE UP ATLANTA!!!!  CAN’T YOU SEE WHAT IS HAPPENING???  YOUR LEADERS DON’T GIVE A FLIP ABOUT YOU!!!Report

    Reply
  3. Guest says:

    Tensions Erupt At Falcons Stadium Impact Meeting  

    By http://wabe.org/people/jonathan-shapiro

    Simmering
    tensions exploded Wednesday night between Atlanta city officials and
    representatives of the neighborhoods surrounding the proposed new
    Atlanta Falcons stadium.
    For months, the two parties have worked
    to develop a plan to divvy up millions in community redevelopment money.
    The process must be completed before $200 million in city funds can be
    channeled to the team to help build the new stadium.
    The meeting, held at Atlanta City Hall, began http://wabe.org/post/long-running-tensions-display-during-stadium-impact-meeting,
    with leaders from the various stadium neighborhoods, including English
    Avenue and Vine City, frustrated over the prospect of ending the process
    merely with a “plan” of recommendations, rather than a legally-binding
    “agreement.”
    “http://wabe.org/post/stadium-neighborhoods-continue-push-binding-community-benefits-package… that’s my question. When do we get to an agreement?” asked committee member Dexter Johnson, a Vine City pastor.
    As
    in previous meetings, city officials stressed that a binding agreement
    would be discussed only after the committee agreed on a plan.
    The
    meeting took a highly contentious turn when Councilman Michael Julian
    Bond, the chair of the committee, mentioned that the plan they had been
    working on for months was already making its way through City Council.
    Bond personally sponsored the legislation at Monday’s full Council
    meeting and now said final approval was out of the committee’s hands.
    “It
    is not before us properly any longer,” said Bond. “We can no longer
    amend this document because it is before City Council now.”
    Neighborhood leaders were stunned.
    “How
    could a document move from this committee without the committee having
    any knowledge of the fact it was moving,” said Yvonne Jones, a committee
    member who heads the neighborhood planning unit representing Vine City
    and English Avenue.
    About 50 onlookers, mostly residents from the
    neighborhoods surrounding the stadium, erupted in anger, directing
    chants of “shame” at Bond and other committee members representing the
    city.
    “There ain’t no way in the world this should go down like this,” said Jones.  
    Over
    shouts from the crowd, Mayor Kasim Reed’s representative on the
    committee, Katrina Taylor-Parks, explained that the legislation
    submitted to Council was a mere “placeholder” in case the committee
    finalized the benefits plan in the next week. That way, she said, the
    City Council could vote on it Dec. 2, its last meeting before holiday
    break.
    “This was all about process. That is it,” Taylor-Parks insisted.
    She
    batted back claims it was an end-run around the committee. She said
    submitting the placeholder legislation to Council was discussed at last
    week’s committee meeting.
    “We came back to our last meeting and
    talked about it at this table and said we were going to put forth a
    draft. We did discuss it. If no one listened, I apologize, but it was
    said,” explained Taylor-Parks.
    Jones and other neighborhood representatives said they had no clue such action was being taken.
    “There
    was nothing that was sent to us via email. There was no phone. There
    was no communication to let the committee members know it was moving in
    that direction,” said Jones. http://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/wabe/files/201311/CommBen.jpg
    From left: Neighborhood leader Yvonne Jones, City Councilman Michael
    Julian Bond, Invest Atlanta’s Ernestine Garey, and mayoral designee
    Katrina Taylor-Parks.
    A clearly agitated Taylor-Parks said the city was already doing much to accommodate committee members.
    “We
    were expecting to talk about it tonight. If anyone else has read the
    legislation, it is clear, number one, that this body does not even have a
    vote,” said Taylor-Parks.
    “Why didn’t you tell us,” interjected committee member Demarcus Peters.
    “You can read. We’ve said this all along,” said Taylor-Parks.
    “Your tone is disrespectful to the community,” said Peters.
    Since
    committee meetings kicked off this summer, neighborhood leaders have
    expressed deep distrust of city officials, due in large part to
    unfulfilled promises of community revitalization related to building the
    Georgia Dome in the 1990s.
    Committee member Howard Beckham, who
    represents the Vine City and English Avenue Ministerial Alliance, said
    Bond’s procedural move was further confirmation that the city couldn’t
    be trusted.
    “You wonder why we want an agreement? Because we don’t trust you! And you proved yourself untrustworthy tonight!” said Beckham.
    Council
    President Ceaser Mitchell, who has attended some of the committee
    meetings over the last few months, said the city’s actions were
    inexcusable.
    “What I have just heard is the most twisted thing
    I’ve ever heard in my 12 years of being on this Council,” said Mitchell.
    “The word bamboozled comes to mind.”
    He railed against the procedural move and eventually stormed out of the room.
    Bond
    defended himself and said due to his absence at last week’s meeting he
    was under the assumption, through Taylor-Parks, that the committee’s
    work was nearly done and the procedural move was necessary to get a plan
    finalized by the end of the year.
    “If I owe anyone an apology
    and people didn’t know, I apologize because I assumed and I believe Ms.
    Taylor-Parks. I know her character and I believe what she told me and I
    believe it was mentioned at [last week’s] meeting as was stated,” said
    Bond.
    Ivory Young, a committee member and city councilman who
    represents several neighborhoods surrounding the proposed stadium, vowed
    to halt any Council action until the committee approved a final plan.
    Ultimately,
    neighborhood leaders on the committee spearheaded a motion to hold off
    finalizing the community benefits plan, which they argue is still far
    too preliminary and vague to be approved.
    Bond proceeded to call another meeting for Monday at 5:30 p.m. in hopes of finalizing the plan.
    Meanwhile,
    a City Council committee is scheduled to consider Bond’s community
    benefits legislation Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., and possibly send it to full
    Council for approval.
    After the meeting, a disturbed Bond said the process needs to draw to a close.
    “We’re
    going to put standards in place so that people can’t mess up this money
    anymore. Almost every person that was engaged in the shouting and the
    disruption has had a loan or grant from some city organization and
    they’ve all defaulted. And so now they want people to come back and give
    them more money?”
    He singled out Council President Mitchell for inciting much of the disruption.  
    “He’s
    raising false expectations. I’m personally deeply dissatisfied with his
    conduct and I was quite frankly embarrassed by it. I was born and
    raised in Vine City and for him to come into the community and disrupt
    it on such important issues is outrageous. He has no credibility with me
    and only has credibility with the scoundrels in that community.”Report

    Reply
  4. Guest says:

    Note that Michael “Julian” Bond’s bamboozling did not occur until after the November 5 election.
    Had Michael “Julian” Bond pulled this stunt some weeks ago, perhaps he would have had an opponent on November 5.
    King Kasim Reed is trying to rush adoption of this so-called “plan” on December 2, 2013 by full City Council, since that is the last regular meeting while Watson and Willis are there to ram through approval, even if this plan has not been approved by the affected stakeholders.  
    In any event, I have very good sources (inside Invest Atlanta) that the “fix” was in from the very beginning on this “Committee” process – in that the neighborhoods were going to get screwed all along.
    Reed/Bond/Taylor-Parks/Garey have now dropped the ball big time in that they were unable to maintain the perception of a process, and the potential fallout is likely to be a giant nuclear turd dropped on the proposed bond financing, which will absolutely hammer Arthur Blank’s construction timeline and pro forma financing structure.Report

    Reply
  5. Weekday says:

    If anyone was a formidable candidate for MJB, then he would’ve had an opponent! You can’t just look at one highly publicized issue and say “out with the entire litter”! All partisans interested in the decisions especially elected city council members should avail themselves of the legislative process, attend meetings, and not grandstand and walk out of meetings! City council president should be far removed from getting that unraveled that he has to make an Oscar nominated worthy exit!Report

    Reply
  6. Weekday says:

    Interesting this community leaders seem to be only interested in a civic lifestyle now that there is big money to be doled out? Welcome back civic leaders community clergy… Where have you been? Oh I see millions of dollars being discussed Nd so now we have to get organized! No need in organizing in the off seasons?… Just get riled up when big bucks are in question! I so wish the Falcons would’ve just built on the other locations! Churches want more just because they can? When most was operating in the red and turning their nose up and good million dollar deals! But that’s why Blank didn’t want to build at this site! Too much controversy! Too much greed! Yep falcons got money so what! Just like Oprah had money and everybody upset she built a school in Africa… It’s her money! Now vine city is all about whT have you done for us? What you gonna do for us? They payed top dollar for the land you figure out the rest…you are civic leaders! But instead wan to blame city council! They do meet every Monday! How many meetings have you attended? But we get upset when legislation has to be moved! Disgusting!Report

    Reply
  7. Erin9791 says:

    As a community member who has attended nearly every meeting since July I truly do feel bamboozled. I am an NPU-L member and English Avenue Neighborhood Association member, home owner, and someone who is vocal but does not have and never did have any “defaulted loans” from Invest Atlanta. IMO it has been evident since Mr Bond’s involvement that the course of these meetings were further removed from the actual community members and that an environment of collaboration was never on the table. Just attitude problems, mostly from Mr. Bond and the mayor’s representative (who is very insulting and combative).
    Mr. Bond you and the mayor should have just come clean and stated that you don’t care about our neighborhoods as much as you care about the Falcon’s. You can shell out 300 million dollars to the Falcons via legislation and a formal MOU yet you cannot make an agreement with Vine City, Castleberry, and English Avenue residents to improve these areas – mostly just by fixing transportation and infrastructure issues associated with the new stadium. I have a tree stump in front of my house that has destroyed the sidewalk and street. I have an abandoned house right next door to me that has been on a demolition list since 2011and who the police swarmed just yesterday and told me they were looking for a criminal suspect who someone saw go in the broken front window of this house. Yet I am told you all don’t have money for stump grinding, sidewalk remediation or demolition funds for this house that is 4 feet from mine.  But you have 300 million dollars you want to hurry up and give to Arthur Blank!!! Where are your priorities?
    I live in Atlanta in a community that sorely needs more residents like myself and my husband – college educated, middle income, tax paying  (owner occupants), vote in EVERY election residents who want to see this city be developed for residents with resident input, not for sports organizations or suburban visitors or tourists. The citizens have not asked for  anything except an agreement with you, our representatives to ensure our needs, and not those aforementioned, are primarily addressed. All of the neighborhoods want an agreement to ensure compliance of contractors/human services providers and oversight of these groups. We want infrastructure improvements to sidewalks and blight that can be handled by existing city departments! We want you to follow through and to ensure you, the city, actually do something INSIDE our neighborhood versus just around it to make it look good for the aforementioned instead of you all continuing to attempt to demoralize, criticize, and demonize our residents for wanting simple improvements and development projects prioritized by our needs instead of Arthur Blank’s construction schedule.Report

    Reply
  8. zenstephan12 says:

    Though
    the process has been challenging, it has also been very rewarding. I
    look forward to working continually with those who are dedicated to the
    improvement of the community. Lastly, while I consider myself to be
    collegial with all of my elected co-laborers at city http://www.evertaut.co.uk/general-seating-categories/conference-seating/ hall, I am the
    ally of the people of Atlanta, and no one should ever mistake that
    fact.  I hope this clarification is helpful to you and your readers.Report

    Reply

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