By Maria Saporta
An imminent agreement for a new Atlanta Falcons football stadium will include several assurances for the surrounding communities, according to Penelope McPhee, president of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.
Arthur Blank, a co-founder of the Home Depot, is the owner of the Atlanta Falcons.
McPhee was one of the panelists at the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum program Wednesday morning on how to leverage large projects to bring equitable development to communities.
Currently, the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta Falcons and the Georgia World Congress Center are in negotiations on a revised agreement to finance and build a new football stadium, which most likely will be located just south of the existing Georgia Dome.
McPhee presented a two-pronged approach. A community impact strategy that will be incorporated as part of the actual Atlanta Falcons-City of Atlanta-GWCC agreement. And a separate philanthropic effort that will address a wide rage of community issues in the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods.
“We see this as a huge opportunity, not only for the Atlanta Falcons and not only for the neighborhoods surrounding the stadium but for the city and the state,” McPhee said. “You all know Arthur Blank. You know he doesn’t do anything half-way.”
McPhee went on to say that the contract to build the $1 billion stadium and select the architect and contractor will have “the highest level of jobs for minorities and jobs for women.” That will be part of the Memorandum of Understanding between the various parties because “that’s just the right thing to do.”
The agreement that will go to City Council also will include a commitment to mitigate the impact of the stadium on the surrounding neighborhoods in terms of water runoff, traffic, parking and pedestrian access — “all those pieces that will make it an iconic stadium,” she said.
The second piece, however, could be just as significant.
“What the foundation proposes to do is above and beyond that — that’s just the cost of doing business,” McPhee said. “We know the history of stadiums in the United States, and the impact on communities has been highly overstated. We know that building stadiums in not enough. It has to be intentional.”
McPhee said the Blank Foundation has been working in the Vine City and English Avenue communities for several years and has developed roots in those neighborhoods. It has been in an “informal information gathering process” to come up with a strategy of how to address a broader community initiative.
“We know and we’ve heard that the expectation of the foundation is much more around human capital than it is around the built environment,” McPhee said, adding that the foundation has tended to focus its efforts on social needs such as education and job training. “We know that our earliest investment has been for the people currently living in the neighborhood.”
But she also said a goal will be to attract new people to the communities without gentrifying those neighborhoods.
“We can’t do it by ourselves,” McPhee said. “We want to be part of a much larger vision. We will partner with Invest Atlanta, but we will be focused on the same kind of issues we have always been focused on — education, human capital and developing leadership. We have a long way to go.”
Invest Atlanta has hired APD Urban Planning and Management to aggregate all the plans that have been developed for the area and work with the city to create a cohesive vision for Vine City and English Avenue.
Later in the program, McPhee said that Blank “wants to invest in a cohesive plan that can have a generational impact” rather that provide grants in a “snowflake” manner. Blank and his foundation will be working with Invest Atlanta, which has funds in its Westside Tax Allocation District, to figure how best to invest in the community.
After the program, McPhee was asked when the foundation will be announcing the nature and level of its investment in the community. “I think we are getting close,” she said.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said he would like to present a detailed agreement to the Atlanta City Council later this month. It is likely that the foundation will announce its plans at the same time.