Stadium deal: A briar patch with free tickets, wary partners, hardened blight
By David Pendered
The Atlanta City Council really doesn’t want to be thrown into the briar patch when it comes to its role in the deal for a new Falcons stadium.
As council members realized Thursday, they have no choice but to find a way through the thorny thicket of a deal that they inherited this year from the Georgia Legislature. Their meeting was scheduled for two hours and it lasted five and a half.
A lot of fur went flying. Such as – Why is Invest Atlanta slated to receive free tickets to events in the new stadium when other city entities are barred from accepting such items by Atlanta’s ethics rules?
Such as – Whatever happened to the development fund of $2.5 million promised to the same stadium neighborhoods as part of the deal for the Georgia Dome, back in the 1980s?
Such as – Can a new civic arena renew the human spirit, in the stadium neighborhoods, of residents whose lifestyles are so far outside the mainstream of work and home and hope?
Such as – Should the council hire former Atlanta city attorney Michael Coleman, and another lawyer, to advise the council during its review of the deal Reed’s administration has proposed? The council has long been wary of counsel from the city’s chief attorney, largely because the position has duel reporting responsibilities to the council and mayor.
The Bible came up at one point in the discussion.
Councilmember C.T. Martin cited a verse in abruptly halting one of his lines of questions: “The Lord is sealing my lips, because in James they talk about toxic tongues.”
At the end of the meeting, the city attorney reported that Atlanta’s ethics officer had been engaged on the issue of whether Invest Atlanta is permitted to accept free tickets to events at the new stadium. There had been discussion to the effect that the city’s development arm doesn’t have to abide by the same ethics standards that were enacted for all of Atlanta City Hall during then-Mayor Shirley Franklin’s tenure.
Invest Atlanta will be intimately involved in the stadium deal. Invest Atlanta will handle the sale of up to $200 million in bonds to finance the stadium’s construction. Invest Atlanta also is to collaborate with the Blank Family Foundation on the planning for, and spending of, some $30 million that’s to improve the quality of life in stadium neighborhoods. Half the sum is coming from Atlanta’s Westside Tax Allocation District, which is administered by Invest Atlanta and under scrutiny from the council.
Two forward-looking acts were made by the council’s Finance Executive Committee:
- The committee will meet March 21, at 2 p.m., to discuss the specific terms of the proposed stadium deal. Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration delivered a thick packet of terms to each councilmember late Wednesday afternoon. Whatever’s in it is so long that an index is said to appear around page 35.
- Committee members agreed to reserve time at the March 18 city council meeting to discuss a time line for action. Pressure to act is building in part because members can’t get a straight answer to their question – “When’s the deadline for council action? – which several members posed to representatives of the mayor’s office, Falcons, and Georgia World Congress Center.
The clearest answer came from Atlanta COO Duriya Farooqui – as soon as possible.
In addition to the stadium issue, the council has its own affairs to handle as city elections in November get ever-closer:
- A city budget has to be vetted and approved by June 30;
- Council investigations continue into matters such as stinging audits of the city’s workforce development program and tax allocation districts, both of which are to be implemented in the proposed stadium deal;
- A public safety panel is just beginning to look for ways to improve security for college students, following a recent string of assaults on students;
- A lengthy review of the city’s alcohol ordinance is expected to culminate this year in a proposal for sweeping changes in city’s policies on beer, wine and alcohol.