By David Pendered
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed may be bucking the adage that history judges leaders for their performance in battles not of their choosing.
One battle Reed did choose, and on which he will be judged, is to help the Falcons build a new stadium. The mayor has not been able to end the battle, though it was to have been over when the Atlanta City Council approved in December a community benefits deal that released $200 million in construction financing.
More than two months after that council vote, the stadium financing is still not a done deal: The city’s funding could be tied up in court for a year; a $200 million loan from the NFL is contingent on the city’s funding; and the state’s request to Atlanta to abandon land for the stadium is lingering in the Atlanta City Council.
Swirling under all of this is discussion of the strength of Reed’s influence. The mayor was reelected in November with 84 percent of the vote – but with a low turnout, just 19.1 percent, the lowest since at least 2001.
“It’s weak support,” UGA political scientist Charles Bullock observed last month. “A share of 19 percent is not a large part of the electorate.”
Among the stadium’s vexing issues that continue in the city’s domain:
- Atlanta-based opponents are working to mount a legal challenge that seeks to prevent the city from borrowing $278.3 million to provide for the stadium’s construction financing;
- The city’s funding is essential for the Falcons to draw a $200 million construction loan from the National Football League’s G4 program, which requires a public funding source;
- Reed’s own vow to revive the Martin Luther King Jr. Drive corridor seems to be jeopardized by the demolition that started last week of part of the MLK viaduct;
- The Atlanta City Council may be digging in its heels on the state’s request to abandon six parcels of land for the stadium (A public hearing on the abandonment is slated for Tuesday, though a related work session on the MLK corridor has yet to be scheduled).
The legal challenge to the city’s funding of the stadium project has all sorts ramifications that are just emerging in speculation. This court process could take a long time. The initial hearing is set for Feb. 17.
No matter how quickly Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville rules, an appeal could take a year, maybe longer, to clear the way for the bonds to be sold.
Or, if the bond validation is denied, a ruling could send the whole matter back to the negotiating table with opponents who think the stadium deal could do more to help Vine City, English Avenue, and Castleberry Hill.
In the interim, questions have to be answered about when to close the deal on the two churches that will be razed to make way for the stadium.
The value reached for the church properties is a function of the need for that land to build the stadium on the south site, which Reed preferred to the north site. Friendship Baptist Church is to be paid $19.5 million and Mount Vernon is to be paid $14.5 million. Whether it makes sense to spend close the deals even as the city’s planned funding is litigated may be a significant decision.
There’s also a condemnation hearing set in March. The value to be determined for that parcel, on Mangum Street, would be influenced by the need of that land for the stadium project.