By David Pendered
The Atlanta City Council is slated to cast a series of votes Monday that may resolve a bit of the uncertainty surrounding the planned Falcons stadium.
But no matter how the council votes, significant issues remain unresolved. Construction funding for the $1.1 billion stadium remains subject to a legal challenge that could derail the project. In addition, the council just this weekend received a highly anticipated report from Mike Dobbins that address issues of connectivity and community regarding the stadium site.
The report from Dobbins, a Georgia Tech professor of practice whose work has become integral in discussion of the stadium’s impact on neighborhoods, could have a direct bearing on at least one matter before the council: A proposal to re-evaluate a decision concerning the street grid around the stadium.
A resolution up for a council vote Monday calls for the city to re-evaluate the decision to close the left turn lane from northbound Northside Drive onto westbound Martin Luther King Jr.
At its heart, Dobbins’ report addresses the broader issue of how the stadium can best be developed to meet the needs of the Falcons and Georgia World Congress Center, while also becoming a real asset to the restoration of downtown Atlanta and its water basin. The document is a distillation of comments he’s been presenting since July in a variety of forums.
All of this activity comes at a time one of the stadium’s biggest boosters – Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed – may have lost some influence over the council.
And it arises as terms of the stadium contract have made it clear that the Falcons can abort the deal to build a new stadium in Atlanta if certain conditions are not met by Sept. 30.
One of those conditions is Atlanta having deposited into an account at least $200 million from proceeds of a bond sale to help finance the stadium. The sum will release an additional $200 million the NFL has agreed to provide. However, a lawsuit challenging the city’s ability to issue the bonds is not expected to be resolved before at least the end of 2014.
In the political arena, Reed was described as having considerable sway over a majority of the previous city council as stadium issues came up for vote. However, Reed’s block of eight votes is perceived to have dwindled to five following the November elections.
The format of the main vote Monday may be an indicator of the present council’s sentiments of the city’s role in the development of a new Falcons stadium. Reed, incidentally, had a strong hand in shaping the city’s role.
The main issue Monday is for the council to determine whether Atlanta will abandon four parcels of land to the Georgia World Congress Center Authority. The GWCCA says the parcels are needed for the stadium project. The issue would have been an open-and-shut case last year; now, the situation is changed.
For starters, the four major items came out of the Utilities Committee with a slim margin of support. The vote on all four items was three in favor, two opposed, and two abstentions.
This outcome created a second hurdle. The four items will be debated and voted individually during the meat of the meeting – rather than voted upon in the consent agenda, which typically consists of popular items that are assembled into a block of legislation that doesn’t call for debate before the vote.
Finally, each member’s vote will be broadcast on a screen in an auditorium that could be packed with observers, if not outright opponents, of the stadium deal. Georgia Stand Up is one of the groups urging friends to attend the meeting and make a statement at the beginning of the meeting. They are expected to be recording votes.
A related matter confronts the council in the form of a resolution calling on the city’s administration to re-evaluate a portion of the street grid around the stadium.
The paper calls for a review of the decision to close a left turn lane from northbound Northside Drive onto westbound Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. This closure is seen as having a debilitating effect on any plans to redevelop MLK Drive into the grand boulevard that Reed has described as his vision of the corridor.