Top officials for the Atlanta Falcons say that if the team doesn’t get a new stadium deal approved they will be leaving the city.
Falcons President Rich McKay says the team wants to play in a new stadium by the start of the 2017 season and that if a deal can’t be struck with Atlanta the team will look to move to the suburbs.
McKay told a packed Atlanta City Council chamber on Wednesday that Atlanta is the team’s first choice, but the team would relocate to a nearby suburb if the terms of a $1 billion new retractable roof stadium cannot be agreed to in time.
McKay said the Falcons are not considering a move outside the state, but would locate in an Atlanta suburb, according to WXIA.
“We want to give this opportunity every opportunity to succeed and that has been our focus 100 percent,” McKay said after the meeting.
An earlier plan to pay for the new stadium called for the Falcons to contribute $700 million toward the project, with the other $300 million coming from Atlanta and Fulton County hotel-motel tax revenue. Falcons officials have since said the team would be willing to provide another $100 million.
McKay said Wednesday the team has not looked at specific locations outside in the suburbs and declined to provide a deadline for a deal with Atlanta. The only timeframe mentioned was the team’s desire to be in the stadium by the 2017 season.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed used his annual State of the City address Wednesday to pitch the city taking a financial stake in the proposed stadium to replace the Dome.
Reed forewarned of a possible move by the team to the suburbs during a January meeting with the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists.
“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.
During his State of the City address, the mayor compared the decision to previous bold steps Atlanta took to build an international airport, launch MARTA and bid for the Democratic National Convention in 1988 and Summer Olympics in 1996.
Each of those, he said, was an example of “the right decision at the right time.”
Criticism of the stadium proposal has come from many directions and polls show that Atlanta residents are overwhelmingly opposed to the idea, showing 70 percent not in favor of using public dollars to build the new arena.
“It’s hard to get lawmakers to vote for something that’s polling 70-to-30 no,” Gov. Nathan Deal told the AJC. “They need to directly communicate with the public. Either way the public attitude has to be significantly changed from where it is now.”
New proposals, though, show that a plan could be approved for a new stadium without needing any state or city lawmaker approval.
Georgia State Senator Vince Fort, who has been one of the loudest critics of the proposal, balked at the possibility of the Falcons moving the team out of the city.
“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.”