Falcons stadium: MLK Drive bridge severed, court hearing set for Feb. 17 on $278 million in city funding
By David Pendered
Progress on the new Falcons stadium has hit a new high gear.
A demolition crew worked Wednesday to rip out a portion of the viaduct of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. A Fulton County Superior Court judge on Tuesday set a hearing date of Feb. 17 to validate the $278.3 million the city has agreed to borrow in order provide for the stadium’s construction.
The fate of the stadium plan is far from certain: Area residents have indicated they intend to block the bond sale in court; the Atlanta City Council hasn’t agreed to abandon six parcels of land the Falcons say they need to build the stadium.
To clarify the amount of the planned bond sale:
Atlanta intends to issue up to $200 million in construction financing. It is to be repaid through the hotel/motel tax. The remaining $78 million in bonds is to pay interest, costs and fees, according to the legal paperwork.
The demolition work removed a piece of MLK Drive from a span of the viaduct that transports MLK Drive above the railroad gulch. The viaduct spans from near Northside Drive almost all the way to Spring Street.
The piece of road removed was perhaps 100 feet long, and it formerly covered the entire width of the viaduct. Pieces of concrete that were still attached to rebar dangled high above the ground.
A fence had been installed on the west end of the viaduct and a portable traffic sign directed traffic to follow Mitchell Street toward the state Capitol. Other signs on Northside Drive, southbound, directed drivers to continue south to reach a detour to MLK Drive.
About 20 demolition workers were busy late Wednesday on earth movers; putting finishing touches on the fencing; and directing traffic to continue on eastbound Mitchell Street.
Just two weeks ago, traffic was moving normally on MLK Drive, but a portable traffic signed cautioned drivers that the road would be closed in February.
Bond may be opposed
The paperwork is straight-forward: The state of Georgia has filed against three entities to ensure that all legal issues have been handled. The defendants are the Atlanta Development Authority (doing business as Invest Atlanta), the city of Atlanta, and the Geo. L. Smith II Georgia World Congress Center Authority.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard filed the case. The defendant’s lawyer is Douglas Selby, of Hunton & Williams.
Under normal circumstances, a bond validation hearing attracts little attention, and no opposition.
This is not a normal circumstance.
Several leaders in the Vine City and English Avenue communities contend the negotiations with the Falcons have not fulfilled the promise: That a world-class sports arena would serve as the catalyst to improve blighted neighborhoods.
City asked to abandon land
The Georgia World Congress Center has asked the city to abandon six parcels in the MLK Drive corridor. The land is needed for stadium construction.
Some plans indicate the six parcels are needed to provide VIP parking for fans. These plans show that MLK Drive is to be severed and rerouted via Northside Drive and Mitchell Street around the site of the future stadium. This is the traffic flow that has resulted from the severing of the MLK Drive viaduct.
However, Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay contends VIP parking is not the driving consideration.
Rather, the parking shown on these maps is, “a by-product of other key consideration (sic) in siting the stadium on the property,” according to a letter McKay sent to Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and the presidents of the four Atlanta University college presidents.
The legislation was on the fast track until Utilities Committee Chairperson Natalyn Mosby Archibong, of the Atlanta City Council, prevailed Jan. 28 in her request for the committee to convene a work session. The purpose is to review these abandonments in the broader context of the city’s desire to promote the renewal of the MLK Drive corridor.
A date for a work session the committee agreed to convene had not been determined as of Wednesday morning.
The legislation to abandon the land was submitted in January by councilmembers C.T. Martin and Michael Julian Bond. The method they used would have enabled the council to vote on the papers at its Monday meeting. However, the committee’s decision to convene a work session has deferred action.