Thursday, April 4, 2013

Invest Atlanta gives OK to public funding for stadium

Posted By on Thu, Apr 4, 2013 at 11:10 AM

Mayor Kasim Reed, Falcons President Rich McKay, and Invest Atlanta CEO Brian McGowan and board members address media
The city's economic development arm this morning gave the final seal of approval for public funding to help build the proposed Atlanta Falcons stadium.

The Invest Atlanta board of directors approved issuing $200 million in bond funding backed by the city's hotel and motel tax to help build the estimated $1 billion stadium. Board member Julian Bene, the lone IA official to question the stadium deal in public meetings, was the lone vote against the proposal.

A plan outlining at least $30 million in community benefits for the English Avenue, Vine City, and Castleberry Hill neighborhoods must be ironed out before the $200 million in bonds will be issued next July. The figure does not take into account interest payments, the cost of land purchased by the state authority that will own the athletic complex, or tax exemptions. In total, the public contribution over 30 years could by some estimates amount to more than $500 million. Or even higher.

Before the vote, Bene, an Atlanta City Council appointeee to the Invest Atlanta board, questioned the wisdom of the deal.

"My perception is that we're switching one stadium for another and that we don't get an amenity for the city," he said.

The cash generated by the hotel/motel tax over the next 30 years could be better spent building transit along the Atlanta Beltline or helping to fund the National Center for Civil and Human Rights near Centennial Olympic Park, he said. Bene suggested that the city lobby the state to change the law extending the hotel/motel tax, which says the revenues can only be used for the new stadium. It's been done before, he argued.

The mayor disagreed, calling Bene's claims "easily refutable and debatable."

"We're not swapping one stadium for another," he said. "We're building a new best-in-class facility that will help us attract new events and an NFL team."

He quibbled with Bene's statement that stadiums don't generate much economic impact, and compared the actual amount of the stadium's public funding, once interest is included, to a mortgage. He disagreed with the idea that the Georgia General Assembly would have OK'ed changing the law and said that the new stadium would support Atlanta's hospitality industry. And were the Falcons to leave downtown, the mayor said, that part of town would have been negatively affected.

Bene, speaking after the meeting, said his opposition was a "futile gesture but someone has to do it."

With Invest Atlanta's approval of the public funding and dedicating $15 million from the Westside TAD for community benefits, the agreements are largely now in place to begin constructing the stadium and then investing in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The Falcons hope to finish interviewing architects by mid-April, Falcons president Rich McKay said. Interviews with general contractors will follow. The team wants to finish the stadium before the start of the 2017 season.

The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the team owner's philanthropic organization, will invest in "human capital" programs such as childhood education and other programs in the neighborhoods. Invest Atlanta will focus on capital projects, such as streetscapes and other so-called "bricks and sticks" improvements.

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