By Maria Saporta
Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday it would be a big loss for the state if the Atlanta Falcons were to move to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles, one of the top media markets in the country, has been seeking a football team for years. Reportedly, Arthur Blank has told Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and other officials that he has been approached by Los Angeles leaders who are interested in him moving the Falcons to the Southern California city.
“It’s incumbent on us to make sure we don’t lose the franchise,” Deal said after being recognized as the 2013 Georgian of the Year by Georgia Trend magazine at its annual 100 Most Influential Georgians luncheon.
That said, Deal did express concern.
“What it does is emphasize the fact that having a major football team like the Atlanta Falcons is a sought-after commodity,” Deal said. “I recognize that fact.”
But Deal stopped short of saying whether the Los Angeles factor could improve the current negotiations between the state and the Falcons on the financial deal to build a new $1 billion stadium. It is possible the City of Atlanta could end up playing a much larger role in the financing if the decision is made to not present the deal to the state legislature.
The option of the Atlanta Falcons moving to Los Angeles, however, has not been a major issue until now.
“Arthur Blank has never played that card, and I give him credit for that,” said Deal, who added that ““I have not had any direct conversations about this.”
Blank has consistently told people that he wants to stay in downtown Atlanta. The only way he would consider other options is if this stadium deal fell through.
While the governor was being honored, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority was holding its monthly board meeting. But the issue of a new Falcons stadium was not brought up because the authority wanted to honor the 15-day quiet period that the governor has established on the negotiations with the Falcons.
Deal also described the proposed deal in favorable terms.
“All along we have understood that this project is one that would funded primarily by the Falcons, some state and more city and county involvement,” Deal said. “Most of the money is Arthur Blank’s and the NFL’s and outside sources.”
Under the agreement that had been negotiated between the Atlanta Falcons and the GWCCA, the state would have issued $300 million in revenue bonds that would have been backed by hotel-motel taxes collected in the City of Atlanta and unincorporated Fulton County.
The remaining $700 million (and any cost overruns) would be paid for by the Atlanta Falcons and the NFL.
But some state legislators have balked at the idea of having any public financing for a new stadium. The General Assembly would have to approve a $300 million bonding capacity for GWCCA under that scenario.
Because the current Georgia Dome was funded with $200 million in state-backed bonds (also repaid by the city’s hotel-motel tax), Gov. Deal had explored just maintaining that $200 million bonding capacity.
“At the time we were looking at the $200 million that the legislature had already authorized,” Deal said, but he added that the ability to apply that bonding capacity to a new stadium may not be possible without going back to the legislature.
It also is possible that there might need to be some “clarification and some additional language that would have authorized (the GWCCA) to have a $200 million revolving authorized limit” of bonding capacity.
Because of the issue of public funding for the stadium has been controversial at the state, the City of Atlanta is exploring whether it could issue up to $300 million in revenue bonds for the project. All these issues are being looked at during this “quiet phase.”
Meanwhile, the fact that Los Angeles is wooing the Falcons could help change the tide of public opinion on the stadium.
A recent WXIA poll released on Jan. 18 showed that if building a new stadium is the only way to keep the Falcons playing in downtown Atlanta, the project had the support of 54 percent of those polled with 37 percent opposing it.
Atlanta Business Chronicle reporter Amy Wenk contributed to this story.