With a largely expected 8-1 vote on Thursday, Arthur Blank and the Atlanta Falcons cleared the final political hurdle to the team’s plan to build a $1 billion retractable-roof stadium in downtown Atlanta.
Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development arm, voted almost unanimously to approve issuing more than $200 million in bonds backed by city hotel-motel taxes that would partly finance the team’s new home. The move will authorize the stadium to receive 39.3 percent of Atlanta’s 7-cents-per-dollar hotel-motel tax for the next 30-plus years.
The Atlanta City Council voted 11-4 in March to use the tax revenue to pay for the bonds which will go toward construction costs and potentially to the costs of financing, maintaining and operating the stadium through 2050. The $200 million is what will be paid to the stadium upfront. Estimates have suggested that could be up to $900 million in taxes that are paid to the Falcons when it’s all said and done.
The plan has long been praised by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who joined Blank at a press conference in March announcing a deal for the stadium that he called, “’a great public-private partnership” that will benefit the city and the state.
The vote by Invest Atlanta marks the culmination of more than two years of negotiations, and ironically comes right before the 21-year-old Georgia Dome, which will be demolished as part of the agreement, is to begin hosting NCAA Final Four basketball tournament.
The Georgia World Congress Center, which would own the property, already signed off on the plan as well. Invest Atlanta was expected to approve it last month, but the board wanted more time to consider a range of late amendments added by councilmembers.
Councilman Kwanza Hall, who voted against the stadium agreement, detailed some of the proposed amendments in an earlier op-ed piece, saying that they “improved the proposal greatly, including measures to protect the General Fund and a commitment, without details, to a community benefits plan.”
Julian Bene, the lone Invest Atlanta board member to vote against the proposal, said it will create “surprisingly few jobs” and said the money could be better spent elsewhere, such as a streetcar route on the Beltline. He said the city should lobby state legislators to change a law requiring that the hotel-motel taxes be spent on a stadium.
“What do we get from this in terms of jobs?” said Bene. “My perception is that we’re switching one stadium for another and that we don’t get an additional amenity for the city.”
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed called Bene’s statements “overly dismissive,” according to the AJC. Most importantly, he said, it helps keep the team in the city’s limits for the next 30 years.
“We’re not simply swapping one stadium for another. We’re building a best-in-class facility that will help us attract new events and retain the Falcons,” he said. “They were going somewhere … Whether that was the suburbs or another city, they weren’t staying here.”
The deal calls for the Falcons to pay up to $70 million in infrastructure costs and another $15 million to support the troubled surrounding neighborhood. Invest Atlanta would chip in another $15 million from a pool of property taxes it collects from a special taxing district, and it must craft a “community benefits” plan for the area.
The stadium now must go through the processes of securing the property for the favored site of the stadium, a lot of land just south of the Georgia Dome that is currently owned by two historic churches. The deal calls for the team to set aside $20 million to purchase the needed property, which is largely owned by two churches, Freedom and Mount Vernon Baptist Church, but negotiations are still underway.
At an earlier meeting with residents of Vine City, Penny McPhee pledged that the owner had “no plans” to move any churches that did not want to be moved.