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New leader for public board that oversees State Farm Arena, zoo, others

A view of the Gulch with State Farm Arena in the background. Credit: Kelly Jordan

A view of the Gulch with State Farm Arena in the background. Credit: Kelly Jordan

By Maggie Lee

The Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority, the obscure agency which supervises public facilities including Zoo Atlanta and the arena formerly known as Philips Arena, is getting a new leader.

That new executive director is Kerry Stewart, a Clark Atlanta and Howard alumni found after a search. He was most recently chief operating officer of Cirology, a consulting firm that assists small- and medium-sized businesses with strategic planning, according to an authority announcement.

A view from the Gulch of State Farm Arena, one of AFCRA's marquee properties. Credit: Kelly Jordan

A view from the Gulch of State Farm Arena, one of AFCRA’s marquee properties. Credit: Kelly Jordan

“Simply put, a first-class community deserves a first-class sports, recreation and entertainment culture. In my role, I plan to work with you, the community, to deliver an unparalleled experience that engages and promotes transformative programming and access to all. In short, this renewed focus will engage the community via venues, facilities and programming for athletes, fans and recreation enthusiasts of all ages to enjoy,” said Stewart in the announcement.

AFCRA was the public agency that oversaw the sale of Turner Field to Georgia State University and that negotiated with the Hawks for a contract extension and for renovation of what was then Philips Arena. It’s now State Farm Arena.

And the agency has had its share of critics.

In December, 2017, the executive director accused then-Mayor Kasim Reed of trying to run AFCRA as a political slush fund.

Terry Wand wrote in a statement that she had done her best to negotiate a lease extension with the Hawks but that “this transaction is riddled with questionable contracts and positions that the Authority was required to adopt.”

Wand had taken over the executive director post after Keisha Lance Bottoms. When Bottoms took the post in 2015, she had been an Atlanta City Council member. She left AFCRA last year and is now mayor.

Bottoms’ tenure at the top of AFCRA became an issue in the mayoral campaign, when other candidates asked whether it was fair for one person to collect two city paychecks.

A 2015 opinion from the city’s ethics officer said it didn’t violate the city’s ethics code per se, but that a complete ethical analysis would require the council member and the AFCRA board to evaluate whether the arrangements creates an appearance of impropriety.

AFCRA and the city also own some land in the Gulch — which a developer is looking to redo in a big way. According to AJC reporting, the same lawyer who’s running AFCRA’s day-to-day operations, Alvin Kendall, is also city “special counsel” on the Gulch deal, leading some to ask if that’s a conflict of interest.

Besides the Zoo and State Farm Arena, AFCRA manages the use of some of the parking lots around the old Turner Field, the former Fanplex next to it and John A. White Park.

“With Kerry on board, now we can turn our primary focus to our core mission of enhancing current, and providing new and exciting, recreational opportunities for all city of Atlanta and Fulton County citizens,” said AFCRA board chair William K. Whitner in the statement.

An agency spokesman was not able to immediately confirm if the appointment takes effect today or if or when the AFCRA board had voted on it.

Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.


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