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.
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.
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.