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.
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:
“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.