The biggest major hurdle has been cleared on the path to a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons as the Atlanta City Council voted late Monday night to approve a funding plan for the new $1 billion retractable roof stadium.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank called it ”a win-win” and earlier promised that the new stadium will help the city continue to compete for all major events, including the Super Bowl. ”That’s the only secret ballot in the NFL,” he said. ”We’ll have to earn it. But this public support is an important piece.”
Mayor Kasim Reed called the arrangement ”a great public-private partnership” that will benefit the city and the state.
The council voted 11-4 in favor of using city hotel-motel taxes to pay an estimated $200 million toward construction costs and potentially several times that toward costs of financing, maintaining and operating the stadium through 2050.
All things considered, the cost to the public could actually end up being closer to $900 million. Through principal and interest payments, the hotel-motel tax could be as much as $450 million over 30 years and, according to projections cited by the AJC, another $450 million could go to the stadium over the years for operations and expenses through a “waterfall” fund.
The $200 million number is a conservative estimate of the cost. The money going toward the stadium comes from the 39.3 percent of Atlanta’s 7-cents-per-dollar hotel-motel tax that is mandated by state law to go to the GWCCA or a stadium project.
In light of those numbers, council member Aaron Watson said he would no longer characterize the public contribution to the project as only the $200 million toward upfront construction.
“I, for one, haven’t heard much discussion of what the entire amount is going to be over the next 30 years,” Watson said. He added he “had taken some comfort” in the $200 million figure but “had been nervous the number was actually more.”
The contract to build the stadium is based on the framework of a deal announced on March 7 at City Hall, which came after months of private negotiations – and several years of planning and studies – involving the governor’s office, the World Congress Center Authority and the mayor’s office, among others.
After last week’s stadium deal announcement City Council President Ceasar C. Mitchell said he was encouraged and promised public hearings in the near future.
Those meeting never happened and the City Council held only one open public forum about the project, at which former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young voiced support for it, saying the stadium was “another opportunity that gives [Atlanta] a chance to shape the future.”
Common Cause Georgia, a government accountability and advocacy group, however, claims that the entire project has been put together behind closed doors and the public has been misled.
“You’re left very clearly with the negotiating parties excluding the public while including the public’s money,” Common Cause board member Wyc Orr has said in earlier statements.
Maria Sporta of Saporta Report wrote early in February that the amount taxpayers would contribute to the project had been determined long before the project was even announced to the public.
“The amount of hotel-motel taxes that would be invested in the project was determined nearly three years ago when the General Assembly agreed to extend the hotel-motel tax collected in the City of Atlanta and in unincorporated Fulton County,” she wrote.
Further, money from the hotel-motel tax will go to the stadium for the next 30 years regardless of how much it is.
“Now here is where it gets interesting,” writes Saporta. “Under the GWCCA-Falcons agreement, if the hotel-motel tax generated more than the estimated $300 million, the excess taxes would go into a ‘waterfall’ fund that would go to pay for other debt on the project, or go into a refurbishment and maintenance reserve account, or go into a fund for capital improvements.
“So whether the state provides $200 million or $300 million in bonding capacity, the amount of hotel-motel taxes collected remains the same…All surplus hotel-motel taxes would still be invested in the stadium development.”
The vote by the City Council came three days after the Georgia World Congress Center Authority approved the deal and left just a vote by Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development agency, for the stadium project to move forward. The board of Invest Atlanta, which would issue the bonds to fund the public portion of the construction cost, is expected to vote Tuesday.
The Falcons expect to be playing in the new retractable roof venue in 2017, while their current home, the Georgia Dome, would be demolished. By August, the city and the GWCCA will try to work out a deal to buy Friendshp and Mount Vernon Baptist churches on the preferred site south of the Dome.