Common Cause Georgia, a government watchdog group, has again revived the debate over public funding for a $1 billion retractable roof stadium in downtown Atlanta. The group is launching a petition drive to force the city to hold a voter referendum on the public financing portion of the new Falcons stadium.
The organization will seek to gain the 35,000 signatures the city’s 1998 initiative and referendum ordinance requires to schedule a public vote. William Perry, the organization’s executive director, said Thursday during a news conference on the steps of Atlanta City Hall, that he’s prepared for a fight.
“It’s a monumental task,” said Perry. “But the public has not been given the chance to weigh in on this. … When you’re talking about so much public money, the public ought to have a seat at the table.”
The board of Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency, last month approved issuing more than $200 million in bonds to finance the public contribution toward the retractable-roof stadium. The bonds will be repaid from the revenue generated by the city’s hotel/motel tax.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, a longtime backer of the stadium project and a key ally in its passage through Invest Atlanta and the City Council, fired back today with a statement of his own.
“William Perry is sacrificing the reputation of a once venerable and well-respected organization for the sake of furthering his own personal ambition,” Reed said in a statement. “His attempt to derail the stadium development is a losing proposition. The state-of-the-art facility is going to help strengthen the city’s $10 billion tourism and convention industry and the 220,000 jobs it supports, spur economic development in the surrounding neighborhoods, and keep the Atlanta Falcons in the heart of downtown for the next 30 years.”
The mayor was not finished.
“We have already had tangible wins because of the approved stadium development deal,” he continued. “The construction of the new stadium will create much needed-construction jobs and include opportunities for women and small business-owners. As a result of the stadium deal, Atlanta recently was named a host city for the College Football Playoff series, expected to immediately become a mega-event in the nation. The city’s Chick-Fil-A bowl will become a national semifinal once every three years, with the first Atlanta game scheduled for Dec. 31, 2016 in the Georgia Dome. The next three are planned for the new retractable-roof Falcons stadium in the 2019, 2022 and 2025 seasons. In addition, the city of Atlanta is now able to robustly compete to host a Super Bowl, perhaps as soon as 2019.
“These types of events help create and sustain jobs in our city, have a significant economic impact and help us maintain Atlanta’s position as the dominant city in the Southeastern United States. Common Cause Georgia should focus on moving our city forward, not taking us backwards.”
The stadium funding was approved by the Atlanta City Council, Georgia World Congress Center Authority and Invest Atlanta.
in spite of those three votes, public financing of the stadium is not a done deal, Perry said.
“The bonds haven’t happened. Ground is not broken,” he said. “This is not over.”