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To the rescue — City of Atlanta carries the ball for new Falcons stadium

New Falcons Staduim

Photo Credit : Atlanta Falcons

By Maria Saporta

Part One: The politics of the new Atlanta Falcons stadium deal

Once again, the City of Atlanta is leading the way.

The tentative agreement reached between the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Falcons holds great significance — far beyond the building of a new home for one of the state’s top professional sports teams.

The agreement is yet one more example that without Atlanta’s leadership, Georgia would have been stuck in reverse.

There are too many examples to name.

But here are a few. Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, arguably the most important economic engine for the whole state, was and is a creature of the City of Atlanta.

Virtually every company that locates in Gwinnett or Cobb or North Fulton or any other county in the metro Atlanta region mentions the airport as a major reason. Many communities south of the airport, Peachtree City in particular, would not exist if it were not for the airport.

But none of those governments contribute to the City of Atlanta and the airport in a tangible way.

For decades, the three-party alliance between the City of Atlanta, Fulton County and DeKalb County moved the entire region forward.

Think MARTA. Those three jurisdictions passed the MARTA Act in 1971 building a rapid transit system that has served as a skeleton to what should be a regional system (had other counties and the state joined in).

But even without that support, MARTA has been instrumental in the whole region and the state entering the international stage.

Without MARTA, Atlanta never would have won the 1988 Democratic National Convention, the 1994 and the 2000 Super Bowls, and most importantly the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. And without MARTA, Georgia never would have become one of the country’s leading convention centers.

Again, the whole region and the whole state has profited from MARTA.  But only three local governments have been paying for its annual operating costs. In fact, rather than provide financial support, that state keeps trying to impose onerous conditions on MARTA making it even more difficult for it to fulfill its mission.

And it is a similar story with Grady Hospital — which serves patients from all over the state but often leaves it up to Fulton and DeKalb to pick up the tab.

Now we have the new Atlanta Falcons stadium, a building that will be owned by the state from day one.

The public financing for the deal is coming entirely from the City of Atlanta’s hotel-motel tax.

When the Georgia Dome was being built, the State of Georgia issued $200 million in revenue bonds, that were backed by hotel-motel taxes collected in the City of Atlanta and unincorporated Fulton County.

But this time around, Gov. Nathan Deal and the State of Georgia did not want to take a political risk to get legislative approval to issue either $300 million or $200 million in revenue bonds (still backed by the city’s hotel-motel taxes) for the $1 billion project. The Atlanta Falcons have agreed to cover the balance of the project’s costs.

So it was left to the City of Atlanta to take over.

Given the law of unintended consequences, Gov. Deal did the city a favor.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Read and his team were able to negotiate a much more favorable deal for the city and the surrounding community than they ever would have been able to had it been a state-driven agreement.

The tentative deal announced on March 7 calls for $50 million of the actual construction agreement to go towards infrastructure improvements related to the stadium project. It also calls for 31 percent minority and women participation in the construction.

And that’s not all. The agreement includes a commitment of $15 million from the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation and a matching commitment from Invest Atlanta in Westside Tax Allocation District funds (for a total of $30) to go towards community rejuvenation.

Efforts also will be made to get other partners to join in to make the neighborhoods of Castleberry, Vine City and English Avenue more vibrant and livable areas of the city.

Much credit for this enlightened agreement, which still must be approved by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority and the Atlanta City Council, must go to Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank and his entire organizations.

The dynamics of Thursday’s press conference were fascinating.

Gov. Deal was invited to come to City Hall, but I don’t think any one expected him to come. Up until now, no Republican governor has ever made it across the street to Atlanta’s City Hall for any reason.

(Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin told me that she and former Gov. Roy Barnes used to visit each other when they were both in office).

Now here’s another intriguing piece of info that has not yet surfaced. The announced agreement leaves out Fulton County.

Because of all the new cities that have been created in Fulton County, there are so few hotels and motels left in the unincorporated areas that the deal makers decided it just was not worth the effort to get it through the Fulton County Commission.

Gregory Pierce, chief financial officer for the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the annual share of hotel-motel taxes going to the new stadium project from unincorporated Fulton County would only be a little more than $50,000 (compared to a total of about $19.5 million).

So think about it. When it comes to this deal, the state legislature has made itself irrelevant. So has Fulton County because of all the new city governments. And given the disarray in DeKalb County, with its own fair share of new city governments, its political influence has been diluted.

All of a sudden, the City of Atlanta — which still represents only 10 percent of the region’s population — has re-emerged as the government that is leading metro Atlanta, if not the whole state.

Overlay these truths with all the Atlanta leaders who have provided the vision and the moral high ground over the decades — lifting Georgia and the South to a place of tolerance, wisdom and relative prosperity and peace.

Just where would Georgia have been without Henry Grady, William B. Hartsfield, Ralph McGill, Ivan Allen Jr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ted Turner, Coretta Scott King, Anne Cox Chambers, Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, Shirley Franklin, Jimmy Carter, Sam Nunn, Carl Sanders, Bill Foege and so many others?

So today I applaud the City of Atlanta for stepping in and taking the lead.

Still, I can’t help but wonder how much stronger Georgia would be if Atlanta truly had a meaningful and constructive partnership with the rest of the region and the state.

Next week: Part Two: The interface between a new football stadium and the surrounding communities.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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  1. Li March 10, 2013 7:51 pm

    Great article! I too am applauding the City of Atlanta, The Mayor and his administration for taking the lead in moving Atlanta and the surrounding areas forwardReport

  2. Citizen J March 11, 2013 12:54 am

    You’re comparing the accomplishments of Henry Grady, William B. Hartsfield, Ralph McGill, Ivan Allen Jr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ted Turner, Coretta Scott King, Anne Cox Chambers, Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, Shirley Franklin, Jimmy Carter, Sam Nunn, Bill Foege with that of getting a twenty year old football stadium replaced with another football stadium? You don’t think that’s a bit insulting to the accomplishments of the people you have listed? Is Ghandi next going to be compared to David Beckham?
    What I’d like to know is when will the public be allowed to see the actual details of this deal? Do we get to see it before the city is obligated to it for the next three decades or is that part of the leadership we are suppose to admire, keeping things hidden from the public who apparently are too dumb to understand such things. 
    Comparing a newer stadium with a few more bells and whistles to the airport and MARTA is about as silly as the council member who recently justified not allowing the people of the City of Atlanta to vote on this deal because voters also wouldn’t have approved the Voting Rights Act.  So now the City of Atlanta’s voters are the kind of people who wish to deny their fellow citizen the right to vote? Though given that it looks like the city council is going to do exactly that in this matter, I can see why they would project that character flaw on others to make them feel better about themselves.
    The world’s busiest airport, a transit system that moves close to half a million people a day, an upgrade to a sports facility, the right for all citizens to vote.  Which of those things doesn’t belong with the others? Pretty sure even the muppets on Sesame Street could figure it out.
    The level at which this new stadium has been elevated to reverence is shocking and should never ever be mentioned in the same breath as the accomplishments of the fine people listed in the article. It demeans all they did to compare them to a stadium upgrade.Report

  3. The Last Democrat in Georgia March 11, 2013 7:07 am

    Good points and excellent article, Ms. Saporta.
    Though, Citizen J makes an excellent and very valid point about whether a deal to replace a still very-serviceable, very well-kept and excellently-conditioned two-decade-old stadium for what is mostly the personal benefit of a private billionaire should really be compared with the legendary societal-impacting accomplishments of the great leaders that you cited in the article.
    {{“The dynamics of Thursday’s press conference were fascinating….Gov. Deal was invited to come to City Hall, but I don’t think any one expected him to come.  Up until now, no Republican governor has ever made it across the street to Atlanta’s City Hall for any reason.  (Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin told me that she and former Gov. Roy Barnes used to visit each other when they were both in office).”}}
    Besides Nathan Deal, there’s only been one other Republican governor in Georgia since 1871 and that was of course, Deal’s immediate predecessor, Sonny Perdue, who was noted as having an extremely-adversarial relationship with his own state legislature which was controlled by his own political party.
    Governor Perdue’s often-hostile relationship with a state legislature that was dominated by his own party makes his lack of a relationship with Atlanta City Hall look extremely-favorable by comparison.
    Sonny Perdue is also generally regarded by most Georgians as one of the absolute worst-ever governors in the state’s history, so Perdue’s failure to ever visit Atlanta City Hall should not necessarily be regarded as being all that bad of a thing.Report

  4. Do I have to use my real name? March 12, 2013 1:21 pm

    Really, Maria? I agree with Citizen J.Report

  5. Keith March 12, 2013 2:07 pm

    Can the City of Atlanta secede from the state and keep
    all the assets our citizens and businesses have paid for?Report

  6. Native Atlantian March 12, 2013 3:28 pm

    City of Atlanta finally does one simple thing correct. This stadium deal was a no brainer and very easy to make. While it appears to be for “the personal benefit of a private billionaire”, as stated by The Last Democrat in Georgia, is actually for the benefit of all Atlanta’s and Georgian’s. Please do not forget the fun we have cheering on the home team, then add in the revenue and jobs associated with having the team and facility and the ability to host other major sporting events.

    Ms. Saporta seems to forget the true problems the city has that affect so many people. The school system, basic infrastructure and endless corruption within the city government tends to have the city lagging way behind where it should be. The success of Atlanta, like the new stadium deal, is not that hard to come by as the city is so great because of its airport, climate, location and people to name a few. Atlanta is by no means great because of it’s government.Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia March 13, 2013 2:30 pm

      @ Native Atlantan

      …Good points.Report

  7. Chris March 12, 2013 9:03 pm

    OMG! Georgia is such a backwards state. Without Atlanta, Georgia would be another lame southern state similar to Mississippi and Arkansas.Report

  8. Rodney K. Strong March 13, 2013 8:52 pm

    I am compelled to respond to Native Atlantian’s assertion that; ” The success of Atlanta, like the new stadium deal, is not that hard to come by as the city is so great because of its airport, climate, location and people to name a few. Atlanta is by no means great because of it’s government ” .

    The referenced statement is demonstrably untrue. The tremendous leadership of the government of the City of Atlanta is what has made this city great. What distinguishes the “climate,location and people” of Atlanta from other cities in the southeastern United States ? The obvious answer is nothing ! The Atlanta MSA in 1960 was the same size as Birmingham and Memphis. Why is Atlanta seven times larger than either city today? It is because of the leadership of the City of Atlanta. The “airport” ,cited by Native Atlantian as a reason for the city’s greatness, was built, is owned and managed by the government of the City of Atlanta. This contradicts the very point Native Atlantian seems to be attempting to make.

    A brief and incomplete list of examples of crucial decisions made by past leaders of the government of the City of Atlanta include: William Hartsfield who had the vision to build the airport. Ivan Allen, Jr. who was the only southern mayor to testify in favor of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.Sam Massell who pushed hard for MARTA and won. Maynard Jackson who built the new “midfield terminal” and required equal business opportunity in city contracting. Andrew Young who built the GA 400 extention and the “Buckhead Loop” and also brought the 1988 Democratic Convention and the 1996 Olympics to the City. Shirley Franklin who enhanced integrity and ethics in the government, resolved longstanging infrastructure problems and grew the housing stock and the population of the city.

    I consult with governments across America and the first question everyone asks is “how can we be more like Atlanta”. That question attests to the tremendous leadership of this great city. I often reflect on the fact that without the visionary leadership of the City of Atlanta the State of Georgia would resemble the State of Alabama. The oft repeated adage is “Georgia without Atlanta would be Alabama”. If “Native Atlantian” were not a native maybe he or she would appreciate the tremendous blessing of the extraordinary leadership we enjoy in this city. I am pleased that Mayor Reed is maintaining the tradition to which he is heir.Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia March 14, 2013 4:56 am

      @ Rodney K. Strong

      …Also some very good points.Report

  9. Atlanta Lawyer March 14, 2013 12:04 am

    Hate to burst your bubble Maria, but I am going to decimate this transaction at the Supreme Court of Georgia. Stop being such a blatant cheerleader for the Chamber crowd and show a little journalism, if you have that capacity.

    Anyway, this thing is “toast” once it gets to the Supreme Court of Georgia.Report

  10. RealDRPhil March 20, 2013 9:27 am

    To idiots critical of this deal let me educate you. As a native Atlantan I remember this area prior to construction of the Omni which started the rebirth of this area. (By the way the Omni was 100% financed by the city of Atlanta.) People seem to have some misguided idea that construction of the GA Dome and the Georgia WCC somehow damaged vine city. I say you have no idea of what you speak. Find some old photographs of that area. It was so bad you wouldn’t let your dog go to the bathroom there.( check the website Return to Atlanta for a great old photo of the area the Dome “ruined”) The truth is this is a good deal for the city of Atlanta. The St. Louis paper had a recent article about financing stadiums around the country and the average cost born by the cities was on average well over 50%. No where did I see where any owner was contributing 80%. Even Jerryworld in Arlington TX required 380 million in Arlington bonds. So to “Atlanta Lawyer” I say go do something important like chase an ambulance.Report

    1. Alex Davis April 10, 2013 10:53 am

      It is asinine to think that one stadium will transform Atlanta. I compare to buying a new house and having no money, for furniture. To analyze this properly, one has to put it into a fifty year context. Unless there is 15 or 25 billion dollars somewhere, we can use? The stadium is all we’ll ever see? SORRY…Report


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