There's no telling just yet whether state Rep. Mark Burkhalter, R-Johns Creek, will resign his Gold Dome seat when he jets off to London to open up his international real estate venture.
But should Burkhalter head to Piccadilly Circus, he plans leave the Georgia World Congress Center Authority with the legal groundwork that could help build a brand-new covered stadium possibly where the $214 million Georgia Dome stands today and keep the Atlanta Falcons a true Atlanta team.
It's been known for quite some time that Falcons owner Arthur Blank was scouting new locations for the football team, as playing at the Georgia Dome wasn't among his long-term plans. It's also been widely reported that Blank would like more control over stadium management and revenues.
The team's contract to play in the Dome and its contract with the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the state entity that manages the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park and the Georgia World Congress Center could expire as early as 2016 or as late as 2020, depending on when bonds sold to build the stadium are paid off. (CL submitted questions to the Falcons' front office but has yet to hear back.)
The AJC reported last April that the team was considering potential stadium sites at the now-shuttered General Motors plant in Doraville, southwest Atlanta's Fort McPherson, the old Atlanta prison farm in southeast Atlanta, northwest Atlanta's Bellwood Quarry and a Forest Park Waste Management site. Blank at the time said staying downtown was the team's "no. 1 priority." In September, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that a new stadium was, according to Falcons President Rich McKay, at the "front of our minds." The ABC also said Florida-based shopping center developer Sembler Co. had proposed to build a stadium as part of its large project envisioned at the Doraville GM facility. Atlanta Unfiltered reported one month later that the Doraville City Council opposed the stadium idea.
It's not just the Falcons who are looking into other options. The Dome, after all, is 18 years old. In late 2009, the GWCCA began exploring whether the Dome needed a retractable roof, upgrades or perhaps even be built anew. Whatever the authority decides, says spokesman Mark Geiger, it'd like to see the Falcons play a part.
"We've been working with the Falcons over the last few years over potential stadium options in the future," Geiger says, adding that the authority is "proud" of its 17-year partnership with the Falcons. "We know they're looking at new facilities and options. And we'll do everything possible to work with them."
It appears those options might include building the team a new stadium. On Jan. 5, Burkhalter introduced House Bill 903, which would allow Fulton County to extend the expiration date from 2020 to 2045 on hotel and motel taxes used to help pay off bonds that built the stadium. Burkhalter's bill includes a few stipulations for that extension, however. The GWCCA would have to agree to build a "successor facility" aka a new dome on its property. The GWCCA would also have to secure an NFL team to play in the facility for the duration of the tax.
When the Dome was first proposed, supporters hammered home the point that the stadium was built not on the backs of hardworkin' Georgians, but with industrial revenue bonds and an increased tax on hotel and motel rooms. Then-Gov. Joe Frank Harris even wrote a folksy editorial outlining the stadium's funding plan. (CL attempted to contact Burkhalter by both telephone and email for clarification about his legislation, but he never responded. Come to think of it, Burkhalter never responds to CL, which is a shame.)
It's not strange that Burkhalter, who serves on the Gold Dome committee that oversees the GWCCA, introduced the build-a-dome bill. But a little political backstory adds some interesting angles to his legislative interests.
Prior to Burkhalter's announcement that he wouldn't make a bid for House Speaker, the lawmaker was previously jockeying for the authority's executive director job. (Longtime director Don Graveline announced his retirement last July.) It'd be a cushy gig. You get to shake hands with powerful people, network with other convention center honchos, and get paid a helluva lot more than a part-time lawmaker who, in the off-season, works in an industry that's been cold-cocked by the economic fallout. According to Open Georgia, Graveline, who's led the GWCCA since its creation 33 years ago, took home more than $434,000 in salary in his last year on the job. Burkhalter eventually removed his name from consideration for the gig and announced the London-based real estate venture.
So, if we want the Falcons to remain a true Atlanta team, rather than a Chamblee or (dare we say it) Smyrna team, Blank wants a new dome. Should Burkhalter's bill pass, then the GWCCA will have a bargaining chip to keep them in town.
(Photo by Joeff Davis)
Hey "Here's Your Editorial", what does Dale Earnhardt Junior have to do with this article?
I would bet Don Balfour chews with his mouth open and sweats profusely the entire…
Paying to have dinner with Bubba McDonald... ugh, just ugh. The only thing that could…
Since my state rep is Tyrone Brooks, can one cross district borders and sign Mr…
For further context, @tater.salad, this post was specifically about the hip-hop influenced visual arts scene…