DeKalb Commissioners approve $30 million soccer facility in 4 to 3 vote

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.”

DeKalb Atlanta United

DeKalb citizens speak with media outlets Tuesday morning after the 4-to-3 vote for Atlanta United soccer facility (Photo by Maria Saporta)

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 logo

Unveiling of the Atlanta United logo (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for MLS Atlanta)

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.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

2 replies
  1. inatl says:

    This is a very odd development.   What is the upside?   Is a soccer stadium really going to bring development?   Since its next to a jail it probably won’t hurt anything, and with the new cities DeKalb probably should be sheding office and other infrastructure space.    But the fact they used tax dollars without more explanation really concerns me.Report

    Reply
  2. CMR says:

    Hi Miss Saporta. I just read your article on WABE regarding the new soccer stadium/ corporate complex in Dekalb, which lead me here to learn more about you.
    I am curious why, in both pieces regarding the new stadium complex, you seemingly go out of your way to inject race into each article?

    In the text above, you make it a point to refer to “The three white commissioners on the board – Jeff Rader, Nancy Jester and Kathie Gannon….”  But at the end of your article you simply refer to the other four commissioners as “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.

    Similarly you refer in your WABE post to “The county continues to be divided between North and South. Even the vote on the soccer facility was split, with the white commissioners voting against it, and the black commissioners voting for it.”

    I think the more important point most Dekalb Taxpayers and journalists should be asking is why was there NO time for allotted for input from the public prior to $12 million dollars of our money being spent? 

    Let me suggest that the hasty action by the iCEO and the four commissioners supporting this investment of county funds, has little to do with the timeline of Arthur Blank and United FC. It has everything to do with the timing and results of Mr. Bowers investigation, the FBI, and the criminals involved. Please mark my prediction here today, by the end of calendar year 2015, 3 Dekalb County Commissioners will be indicted. If not, I will buy you lunch.  Until then, see if you can guess which 3.Report

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