It may just have been a slip of the tongue, but Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said a great deal without saying much at all during a Saturday morning meeting with the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists.
“Where we’re going to build the stadium…,” Reed said, before stopping himself, “where we’ve proposed to build the stadium, it will be a huge boost to the area.”
Reed spoke at length about the stadium, a project he has supported strongly for some time, during a question-and-answer session with WSB’s Condace Pressley and other members of the AABJ.
“When cities go up against the NFL, they lose,” Reed said, noting cities like Dallas and San Francisco that have seen their NFL franchises move or prepare to move to neighboring suburbs of Arlington and Santa Clara, respectively.
“I think we’ll get a deal done on the stadium and that we’ll have a world-class stadium in the city of Atlanta,” Reed said at an earlier meeting with the Atlanta Press Club.
Reed’s optimism about the project’s inevitability appears to be his alone, though.
According to a recent poll, Atlantans are overwhelmingly opposed to the prospect of using public funds to build the new $900 million-plus stadium, and Reed admitted that a new stadium in Atlanta was highly unlikely without public financing.
A recent statewide poll conducted by the AJC showed 72 percent of respondents either opposed or strongly opposed to using hotel/motel tax collections in Atlanta and unincorporated Fulton County to help finance construction.
That number is a nonstarter for many in the Georgia legislature.
“It’s hard to get lawmakers to vote for something that’s polling 70-to-30 no,” Gov. Nathan Deal told the paper. “They need to directly communicate with the public. Either way the public attitude has to be significantly changed from where it is now.”
While it may appear to be ungrounded in reality, Neil deMause, co-author of “Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit” says Reed’s push for “where” the stadium will be built rather than “if” it will be built in the face of glaring public disapproval is typical.
“Early on, especially in stadium campaigns, typically you have at least two-thirds public opposition to it,” deMause told the Daily World, “because if you ask people, ‘Should we take our tax money and give it to this rich guy?’ the knee jerk reaction is no.”
deMause wrote “Field of Schemes” in 1999 and has researched and reported on construction of nearly every major sports stadium that has been built since.
“What goes on in the mass majority of these stadium and arena deals is you’re socializing the cost and privitzing the profit,” he said. “That’s what you see in the Atlanta deal.”
State Senator Vince Fort, D-Atlanta, certainly sees it that way.
“I don’t believe that taxpayer money, that is $300 million, should be used to pay for a billionaire’s playground,” Fort told the Daily World. “We are furloughing teachers in this state, we are cutting pre-K, cutting the Hope Scholarship, so I believe that there are more important priorities than creating a playground for Arthur Blank. Tell Arthur Blank to pay for it himself.”
Infrastructure improvements around the site of a new stadium could push the total project cost to $1.2 billion and Reed has not given a hard figure for the dollar amount that the public would be responsible for, though he estimated the city could issue between $250 million and $300 million in bonds for the project.
In spite of the opposition, Reed and other lawmakers have held strong that the stadium’s benefits will far outweigh the costs.
“We’ve got to be in the future business in our city,” Reed said. “We’ve got to be in the business of putting Atlanta forward as its best self.”
The Falcons and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) signed a non-binding term sheet in December after months of quiet negotiations. It is the first piece of a detailed agreement on building and operating a new stadium.
So for, the Falcons and GWCCA have pushed forward with the stadium’s timeline. Most recently, the city announced a delay in finding an architect to design the full project.
A perception of inevitability, though, may all just be part of a sales pitch. It’s something deMause said he’s seen before.
“The main thing you’re trying to achieve if you’re a sports team owner is to shift the debate from should we build a new stadium to how are we going to build a new stadium,” he said. “It’s something that a team owner can put out there, but it’s easier if you have elected officials trying to shape that debate for you.”