I spent my Saturday afternoon this week outside of the Georgia Dome at the Kingsford tent in “Tailgate Town,” a makeshift collection of tents populated by private parties for alumni associations, local firms and various businesses (like Kingsford) that exhausts the space directly across from the Dome and adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center.
Inside the Kingsford tent, champion pitmaster Chris Lilly, who is also a spokesman for the company, and Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones lounged with “geo-targeted” fans and various corporate connections trying to catch the breeze and stay out of the intense, sweltering heat. (It was something like 90 degrees with 100 percent humidity.)
Then I moved inside and watched the Alabama Crimson Tide beat the pants off of a woefully undisciplined Virginia Tech team, and I couldn’t help but think about the building that made it all possible.
As Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed continues his march to the inevitable new downtown Atlanta stadium for the Falcons, the fact that the city has a perfectly good stadium, already constructed and in good standing, seems to have never been a part of the conversation.
Walking through the Georgia Dome isn’t uncomfortable, the facilities aren’t in disrepair, and even the field is in great condition. Further, the tailgating community around the Dome has been firmly entrenched, with a number of the Dome’s regulars having been in the same spot for years or even decades. So why demolish the Dome, build a new stadium and move to an already occupied location miles away?
I wish I had an answer.
One theory, espoused by Neil deMause, author of “Field of Schemes: How the Great Stadium Swindle Turns Public Money Into Private Profit,” is that Reed is simply a pawn being used by the Falcons ownership to overcome widespread voter opposition. When initially proposed, the public was against the stadium by a rate of about 70 percent to 30 percent. That overwhelming antipathy, deMause said, is pretty understandable.
“Early on, especially in stadium campaigns, typically you have at least two-thirds public opposition to it,” he 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.”
But public sentiment seems to have shifted since the announcement of a deal between Reed, Falcons owner Arthur Blank and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, and passage of the stadium deal by the Atlanta City Council and Invest Atlanta.
Common Cause Georgia, a government accountability organization, failed to even come close to garnering the necessary 35,000 petition signatures to put the city’s money allocation to the stadium up for a vote from the public.
The stadium push seems to now have no formidable foe. And if Reed is simply a pawn, he’s been an indefatigably powerful one.
The mayor announced recently a deal with Friendship Baptist Church and has now involved himself and former Atlanta Mayor and UN Ambassador Andrew Young in negotiations with Mount Vernon Baptist Church, which is expected to spur a deal there. Purchase of the land from those two churches was the last remaining obstacle in getting the stadium’s preferred south site. And now, even a deal with Morris Brown College seems inevitable given the mayor’s successes thus far.
The Georgia Dome is barely 20 years old and, contrary to Reed’s claims, would more than likely have finalized a deal with the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, which will be a part of the new College Football Playoff starting next year, and the season-opening Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game, without the new stadium. The latter has already signed on for two more years at the Georgia Dome.
As recently as 2008, the SEC Championship game set a record for attendance with 75,892 fans in attendance.
While Atlantans are almost certain to see construction begin soon on Mayor Reed’s stupendous, unsinkable, brand new billion-dollar stadium, it’s hard to walk through the still navigable halls of the Georgia Dome or outside along the carefully manicured field turf laid specially for tailgaters and not wonder, “What’s wrong with this?” in more ways than one.