Falcons team hopes for freedom to fly in open-air stadium

The Southerner

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BY OLIVIA KLEINMAN

The Atlanta Falcons are hoping to build a new nest.

About a year ago, the Atlanta Falcons entered negotiations with the Georgia World Congress Center Authority about a new open-air football stadium.

Frank Poe, executive director of the GWCC, said the parties are working through a number of complex issues such as the financial structure to support an additional stadium.

Other viable options—such as renovating and adding a retractable roof to the Georgia Dome—are being considered, but Poe said the Falcons have expressed a public desire for a new open-air stadium.

Poe said the GWCC Authority’s preferred option is the one that is the most affordable for the state of Georgia and is the most manageable for the GWCC.

In 2011, the GWCC Authority authorized an assessment of the cost for an open-air stadium, which estimated the cost to be more than $700 million.

Poe added that there are two potential sources for the $700 million—revenue bonds issued by the GWCC Authority and as much as $400 million of public funds.

For now, the Falcons are committed to playing in the Georgia Dome, which opened in 1992, until the outstanding debt from the facility is paid, Poe said. The current collection of the 7 percent hotel tax, which was set to expire in 2020, is being used to pay off this debt. If the proposed stadium is built, however, the hotel tax would stay in effect past 2020.

John Sherman, president of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, said he has been contacted concerning this proposal and knows taxpayers are not enthusiastic about using tax money for the stadium.

“Why, during times like these, do we need two stadiums next to each other?” Sherman said. “These are the worst economic times since the 1930s, with a 10 percent unemployment rate, and when I go downtown, I see people begging for food. I think we should direct our resources to social problems in the community.”

Another of Sherman’s concerns is the potential location for the new stadium. A blighted 28-acre tract on Northside Drive, just half a mile north of the Georgia Dome, is being considered for the new home for the Falcons. This area was previously occupied by Herndon Homes, a public housing project where 250 families lived before it was demolished in 2010.

“It is half a mile from the nearest MARTA station, so [the stadium] leaves out the middle class and the poor who take MARTA to games,” Sherman said. “It caters to the rich.”

Poe, however, said the city would profit from a new stadium. One reason for this is that there are jobs associated with it.

“Through construction, jobs will be created, and there will be post-construction job creation as it moves into an operation posture,” Poe said.

In addition, professional sports positively impact economic development by attracting businesses and people to Atlanta, Poe said.

“If we as a community value professional sports, the current status of being engaged in securing professional sports requires a level of public contributions,” Poe said. “Consider the public financial support for such teams as the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks, the 1996 Olympics. Were the use of public dollars for venues a good way to spend public funds?”

Regarding the potential stadium, Sherman believes it is not. With the city’s financial problems—there is a shortfall of $1.6 billion in the city’s pension funds and a $1.2 billion shortfall in health funds—Atlanta cannot afford to pay hundreds of millions of dollars towards a second stadium, he said.

“In a time where people are going hungry and don’t have lodging and homes are being foreclosed on, there must be a better use [for the public funds] than a new stadium next to an existing one,” Sherman said.

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