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Friday, March 15, 2013

Keep your eyes open: Falcons stadium deal moving fast

Deal to replace Georgia Dome with $1 billion stadium is moving through Atlanta City Council, state agency
  • Dustin Chambers/CL File
  • Deal to replace Georgia Dome with $1 billion stadium is moving through Atlanta City Council, state agency
Don't blink. The deal to pave the way for a new Atlanta Falcons stadium is moving fast.

At 2 p.m, the board of the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, the state agency that would own the estimated $1 billion athletic complex, is expected to vote on the deal. The move comes little more than one week after only the basic details of the deal were released to the public, and amidst more questions of the actual amount of public funding that would be dedicated to build the new athletic and events complex. The Atlanta City Council might take on the matter on Monday.

The City Council's Finance and Executive Committee yesterday spent five hours - much longer than Chairwoman Felicia Moore anticipated or hoped - talking about the proposed stadium and how the superstructure might affect surrounding neighborhoods. They also started sifting through a thick packet of documents that includes the actual agreements between the city, the Falcons, and the GWCCA. Councilmembers received the information the afternoon before the committee work session. (UPDATE, 10:11 p.m. A spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed sends word that the documents are now available online, along with other stadium-related materials. Earlier today Reed staffers also posted a FAQ.)

The amount of public cash that's often mentioned that would flow to the Falcons is $200 million. The funding would be generated by the city's lucrative hotel and motel tax, which by law can only be used to fund a new stadium on GWCC property.

But as many have noted, that figure doesn't take into account principal payments and interest that occur over the life of the 30-year tax. We've seen total figures as high as $450 million. Some even say it could rise to $900 million when you factor in potential operations and maintenance costs. Councilman Aaron Watson said yesterday he could no longer use the $200 million figure when discussing the public funding component.

Councilmembers attending yesterday's work session also noticed that the proposed contract includes some perks for Invest Atlanta. The city's economic development agency, which is chaired by Mayor Kasim Reed, would receive premium seating to help with its "economic development mission." (The city's ethics officer is looking into the matter.) According to the documents, which were provided by Mayor Kasim Reed's office to the media, IA would also be given right of first refusal, with some provisions, if the GWCC wanted to partner with a development authority to issue bonds to fund a hotel or similar project. Such a move could help generate revenue for IA, allowing it to take on more projects and increase its clout in metro Atlanta's economic development community.

There's talk that legislation to approve the deal might be introduced on Monday at the City Council's full meeting - and that there might even be a vote to approve the agreement. Moore, one of the council's more vocal fiscal watchdogs, says she hasn't been given enough time to review the proposal.

"I just got it," Moore told CL yesterday. "I haven't had a chance to read it. I do want to be sure that if I do want to vote for it then I understand what I'm voting for. If it's a good deal for the city, I hope what we heard [in previous public meetings] has helped formulate what's in [the agreements]."

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