Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that Georgia State University has been meeting with elected neighborhood representatives of the Turner Field area.
By David Pendered
Tension is rising, again, over the redevelopment of Turner Field. At least two members of the Atlanta City Council are calling on Georgia State University to meet with area residents. GSU affirmed Thursday that it has been meeting with elected neighborhood leadership and offered to meet with other groups – but the later rejected terms of the meeting.
The turmoil continues what has been, at times, a contentious process of devising the future of Turner Field and surrounding areas. The Atlanta Braves have already played ballgames at SunTrust Park. The fate of the old stadium and its surrounding neighorhoods remains a political pop-up fly ball.
The current phase of unrest began earlier this month and hit a crescendo April 10 with the arrest of four GSU students and former state Rep. Douglas Dean. The five refused to leave a GSU building.
These five were part of a larger group that conducted a five-hour sit-in in front of GSU President Mark Becker’s office. Their purpose was to meet with Becker and discuss potential community benefits for the neighborhood, such as affordable housing, job training and employment in businesses at the future redevelopment. Becker did not meet with members of the group.
Some advocates eventually retreated to a tent city erected outside the northeast gate of Turner Field.
Atlanta City Councilmember Felicia Moore said Thursday she has drafted legislation urging Becker to meet with area residents. Moore said she was prepared to file the paper at Monday’s council meeting. The purpose of the meeting with residents would be to discuss a potential agreement whereby GSU would participate in a community benefits agreement.
Moore, who’s campaigning for council president, said she did not file the legislation at Monday’s meeting. Moore said she held the paper out of professional courtesy to Councilmember Carla Smith, who represents the stadium neighborhoods. Moore said Smith had told her that she, Smith, was trying to arrange a meeting of GSU, residents, and Georgia Stand-Up (a longtime advocate of community benefits agreements) to resolve differences.
Meanwhile, Councilmember Michael Julian Bond, who’s seeking to retain his current citywide seat, said during Monday’s city council meeting that he would sign Moore’s proposed legislation. He also affirmed his support for the five who were arrested.
“I want to uphold those who had the intestinal fortitude to get arrested, to stand up for what they believe in, that’s the city of Atlanta’s history,” Bond said. “If Atlanta is to live up to its creed as a, ‘City too busy to hate,’ we ought to uphold those individuals and we ought to let that tent city stand.”
Bond spoke after the Atlanta City Council voted to create a trust fund to benefit neighborhoods near Turner Field. Bond sponsored the legislation that created the trust fund. As amended by the council’s Finance Committee, it provides that:
- “WHEREAS, it is in the best interest to require proceeds from the future sale of any City-owned property in the vicinity of the Turner Field Redevelopment area benefit residents of the surrounding neighborhoods; and
- “WHEREAS, a Trust Fund Account should be established for the collection and expenditure of these funds to be used solely to fund economic and community development initiatives, such as affordable housing, job training, and in the Mechanicsville, Pittsburgh, Peoplestown, and Summerhill neighborhoods.”
In response a request for GSU’s latest position on the situation, the university released the following statement from Becker. This comment was prepared for use by the GSU’s student newspaper, The Signal:
- “The university is constitutionally prohibited from signing this Community Benefits Agreement. When we allocate money, we have to allocate money for the purposes that was intended and it goes through a BOR (Board of Regents) process. There’s something in the Constitution called the Gratuities Clause, which [states] we can’t just go giving you state money or our tuition dollars without there being an appropriate university use for that activity. And giving money away to organizations external of the university is not an allowed activity. We don’t make donations, we don’t make contributions.
- “The CBA is a specific legal document. We’re not going to do that. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to find ways to work together. In the main, everybody wants the same thing. Nobody wants the flooding to persist. We all want to find solutions to that. Now that’s going to be primarily Carter. In terms of wanting to bring resources into the community – I was one of the first people to publicly say there needs to be a grocery store. There is a lot of complexity to it, but primarily what neighborhood residents want, not this Benefits Coalition, the neighborhood residents, what Carter and Georgia State wants to do, are aligned.
- “Gentrification is a city issue, not a university issue, to solve. We do not set property tax rates.”