Stadium deal offers Atlanta biggest opportunity since airport concessions contracts to shape social policy

By David Pendered

Atlanta’s role in funding the proposed Falcons stadium provides Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council with their biggest opportunity since the airport concessions contracts to shape social objectives through public investments.

The former home of Martin Luther King, Jr. is in a neighborhood that may be improved, depending on terms of potential city support for the proposed Falcons stadium. File/Credit: David Pendered

The former home of Martin Luther King, Jr. is in a weary neighborhood that may be improved, depending on terms of potential city support for the proposed Falcons stadium. File/Credit: David Pendered

With the city’s airport contracts, the city strongly encouraged joint ventures and required a minimum of 36 percent of contracts be awarded to disadvantaged businesses. In another example of tightly drawn requirements, a group of restaurant contracts required specific types of food to be served – food unique to the American South.

In negotiating a deal for Atlanta to provide stadium financing, the council has asked Reed’s office to address social outcomes such as disadvantaged business participation, community benefits such as flood mitigation, and neighborhood revitalization.

The team of advocates for the stadium has provided few specific responses to some of the issues raised by councilmembers. Reed has said he will deliver his administration’s proposal to the council by mid March that includes the terms for the city’s agreement to extend its hotel/motel tax to a date as distant as 2050.

The stadium team that has presented the proposal to the council is comprised of representatives of the Falcons, Georgia World Congress Center Authority, and the mayor’s office.

The sparseness of answers to some questions results partly from the focus of negotiations until now: The team and GWCCA have been focused on building a stadium, according to Rich McKay, the Falcons’ president and CEO. Atlanta became an active partner in the negotiations only this year.

Rich said near the conclusion of a Feb. 20 meeting with the council’s Finance Committee:

  • These terms are among those Atlanta set out during the bid for airport concessionaires. Credit: City of Atlanta

    These terms are among those Atlanta set out during the bid for airport concessionaires. Credit: Atlanta

    “This task [of establishing social outcomes] will be as difficult, if not more difficult, than the stadium itself. We will work with the leadership of the mayor’s office and Invest Atlanta. Hopefully this project can be a catalyst [for bolstering social objectives]. But we can’t assume it’s going to happen just because we’re building this stadium, if we build this stadium.”

The council has conducted more than 12 hours of sessions, in public, to discuss the proposed funding. Eight hours of work sessions, with the Falcons, GWCCA and mayor’s office, were followed by a one-hour public input session, plus a three-hour planning process meeting held in conjunction with the administration.

William Perry, the executive director of Common Cause of Georgia who was an outspoken critic of the handling of the airport concessions contracts, commended the council for its conduct during the stadium deal.

“You’re the only body that’s engaged in public [discussion],” Perry said. “I’m glad that you all have the opportunity to present that – or to force that.”

Some examples of the interchange between councilmembers and the advocates include:

  • Q: “How do we not just have a giant building across from vacant parking lots and people living in abject poverty? We’ve seen that too many times … because it’s expedient.” – Kwanza Hall, councilmember.
  • A: No specific response. Following Hall, two councilmembers made statements – about job creation in nearby neighborhoods and community benefits agreements – and then McKay responded: “We don’t have a specific answer. It’s too early in the process.”
  • Q: Atlanta has a minimum threshold for disadvantaged business participation. Will that threshold be included in the term sheet with the city? – Ivory Lee Young, Jr. councilmember.
  • A: The Falcons will work with the city to see how the city’s requirements can be applied to the contract. Team owner Arthur Blank is committed to being a good civic partner. – McKay.
  • Q: Who’s to pay for street improvements to serve the facility? – C.T. Martin, councilmember.
  • A: That hasn’t been determined because it’s a function of where the stadium will be built, and that hasn’t been determined. Duriya Farooqu, Atlanta’s COO.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

8 replies
  1. Burroughston Broch says:

    The City’s expensive and burdensome contracting requirements will add considerable cost to the project. The City taxpayers will be at risk.Report

    Reply
  2. Joseph Uncle Joe Hudson says:

    One of the major challenges this city faces is the recognition that the Disadvantaged Business Program is NOT a Social Policy discussion any more but an economic one.  These business employ, cause tax and other economic contributions for the good of the city.  Perhaps we should be talking about how this Investment in these businesses through contracting brings an economic return especially if you consider local residents for employment.   It’s all in your view, lets not push back against contracting with minorities and women but instead embrace them for the benefits they bring to the larger society.Report

    Reply

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