By Maria Saporta
In a vote that split along racial and geographic lines, DeKalb County Commissioner voted Tuesday morning 4-to-3 in favor of a deal to lure the Atlanta United soccer team’s $30 million training facility to a site along Memorial Drive inside I-285.
Despite protests from three commissioners and people in the audience, no time was made available for public comment about the $30 million soccer complex and the county’s commitment to invest up to $12 million in the project.
The three white commissioners on the board – Jeff Rader, Nancy Jester and Kathie Gannon – complained that they had not had enough time to review the deal.
“It’s a deal that first saw the light of day last Tuesday,” Rader said. “We all want Atlanta United, but we have to negotiate a better deal.”
After apologizing to the packed room of citizens attending the specially-called board meeting for commissioners not allowing them to talk, Gannon said: “This deal should be slowed down.” She urged her fellow commissioners to “not move forward with a deal that is not at all balanced for DeKalb County.”
Interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May, however, defended the deal – which he had helped put together with Atlanta United Football Club.
The deal would have the soccer training facility be located on up to 41 acres of county-owned land. The county would spend as much as $5 million to demolish the 19 buildings on the property and prepare it for redevelopment.
DeKalb also would provide $7 million in payments over three years to be able to use the facilities within the soccer complex.
Atlanta United has committed to building a 3,500-seat stadium as well as three additional soccer fields on the property.
“Make no bones about it, we were very aggressive about landing this deal in DeKalb County,” May told the Board of Commissioners. “Yes, we put cash on the table.”
May explained that the reason a vote needed to be taken quickly was because Atlanta United needed to have the training facility available by the end of 2016 so it could prepare for the 2017 soccer season.
The CEO also said that it was important to remember that this part of DeKalb County has been hungry for new investment.
“Memorial Drive has not see a dollar of development in two decades,” May said. “It’s about having a financial investment in a corridor that’s desperately in need.”
May added that this public-private venture along the Memorial Drive corridor would be good for DeKalb’s bottom line.
The four commissioners who voted in favor of the deal with Atlanta United – Larry Johnson, Mereda Davis Johnson, Sharon Barnes Sutton and Stan Watson – were relatively quiet during the specially-called meeting.
A press conference with Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta United franchise as well as the executives with the team, will be held at the Maloof Auditorium in downtown Decatur at 4 p.m. Tuesday.