By Guest Columnist JASON S. DOZIER, an Atlanta native and resident of the Mechanicsville neighborhood
Fifty years ago, Atlanta’s late Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. famously quipped, “We built a stadium on ground we didn’t own with money we didn’t have for a team we hadn’t signed.”
In fewer than three years and through a series of backdoor arrangements, the City of Atlanta managed to steal a baseball team from the Midwest, build a publicly-financed sports arena, and catapult itself into the pantheon of major league cities.
While this story has been recounted as an example of Atlanta’s can-do attitude and civic ingenuity, this enterprise was one of many examples of public development projects that ravaged the communities just south of Downtown. Thousands were displaced initially, and those who did remain were separated by gated superblocks of concrete and asphalt.
Decades of development failed to lessen the human costs of this infrastructure. Today, run-off from the interstates and parking lots floods our streets and homes. Our schools don’t have the resources they need, and our children, youth, and seniors don’t have safe places to interact. Many of us live in homes or apartments that need repairs, while rents are rising without protections for long-time residents.
Our neighborhoods lost businesses and jobs: a hospital, a theater, an ice cream parlor, a grocery store and other small businesses that were located where the stadium and parking lots now sit.
Before the interstates, residents could walk safely or take the streetcar between neighborhoods and into downtown Atlanta.
And so it should come as no surprise that the residents of the communities surrounding Turner Field are apprehensive about public officials deciding what’s best for our neighborhoods behind closed doors. Residents of the affected communities have organized to ensure that these development deals aren’t brought into our community without the community’s voice.
Last month, the Turner Field Community Benefits Coalition gathered outside of the stadium to announce our Community Benefits Platform and request that the Atlanta Fulton County Recreation Authority require Turner Field’s developer to enter into a Community Benefits Agreement with the affected communities. In response, some officials have stated that adding the agreement could threaten the timing of the sale.
There’s an assumption that the affected communities are seeking to stall the negotiation of a purchase agreement. This is not the case. We simply believe that these stakeholders have the potential to cultivate a partnership that works for us all.
We believe that they can change the historical paradigm and lay foundations that will enhance the character and quality of our neighborhoods for generations.
And we are hopeful that they believe that as well.
Just this week, AFCRA Executive Director Keisha Lance Bottoms assured residents that the developers, “will look after the community’s needs after the contract is signed.”
But hope alone can’t protect the disempowered and disenfranchised.
And so we ask for the Recreation Authority to mandate a binding condition in the sales agreement that the developer negotiate a Community Benefits Agreement with our neighborhoods. Duplicating the precedent established by the community benefits plans attempted in other stadium neighborhoods across Atlanta isn’t enough.
If we look across the country, there are a number of great examples of legally binding, negotiated contracts between private developers and community groups that create collaborative partnerships where everybody wins.
A well-implemented CBA could alleviate flooding; improve transportation and create new public space; provide jobs for residents; create opportunities for training, education and services for people of all ages; create housing for people of all incomes and prevent displacement of existing residents; and make our streets and communities safer and cleaner, while providing places to shop for people in the neighborhood.
In the interim, our communities are working together to improve our schools, train people for jobs, and create access to healthy food. We are building relationships between seniors and youth, and between long-time residents and new.
We are coming together to support local businesses and entrepreneurs. We invite our new neighbors to join us in righting the historical wrongs that continue to negatively affect our neighborhoods today.
We need development that supports our progress. Carter and Georgia State University have an incredible opportunity to do something great in our neighborhoods. But we need a commitment that this development process will include us.
We encourage the development team to work with us on a Community Benefits Agreement that describes our shared goals and how we will achieve them together. Because nothing about us, without us, is for us.