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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Council OKs community benefits plan for Falcons stadium neighborhoods

CONCERNED CITIZEN: State Rep. Able Mable Thomas, who represents English Avenue and Vine City, shares her concerns about the community-benefits plan with Atlanta City Council officials at yesterdays council hearing.
  • Joeff Davis
  • CONCERNED CITIZEN: State Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas, who represents English Avenue and Vine City, shares her concerns about the community-benefits plan with Atlanta City Council officials at yesterday's council hearing.

Atlanta Falcons execs have now cleared the biggest hurdle toward building a new stadium with the passage of a benefits plan designed to help surrounding neighborhoods.

The Atlanta City Council yesterday unanimously approved a non-binding plan that calls for a $30 million investment in Castleberry Hill, Downtown, English Avenue, and Vine City.

By doing so, city officials paved the way for the issuance of approximately $200 million in bonds backed by the Atlanta's lucrative hotel-and-motel tax to help build the stadium. The legislation passed during Council's final meeting of the year after months of contentious - and at times acrimonious - discussions. Mayor Kasim Reed had pushed for the legislation to be approved before the end of the year. Some community leaders, however, are said to be weighing the possibility of filing a lawsuit over the benefits package.

The community-benefits plan includes a series of recommendations for local job training programs, affordable housing initiatives, environmental measures, historic preservation, economic development guidelines, and other neighborhood improvement efforts. City Hall, Invest Atlanta (the city's economic development arm), and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation will now look at those suggestions as they consider how to best spend a combination of Blank's philanthropic foundation's cash and funding from the Westside TAD, a special tax district overseen by Invest Atlanta.

Councilman Michael Julian Bond, who led the community benefits committee over the past several months, said the legislation marked the beginning of an ongoing process to improve the neighborhoods adjacent to the proposd $1.2 billion multi-use facility. He commended the collaboration between neighborhood leaders and city officials despite the occasional heated moments that occurred along the way.

"This is the beginning in what we hope will be a new effort; not to repeat the mistakes of the past, not to continue to have the right intentions but to do things the wrong way; but to finally get down to the nuts and bolts of how to get this turned around," Bond said.

Some residents still remain concerned that there isn't a legally binding community-benefits agreement in place. Yvonne Jones, Neighborhood Planning Unit-L chair and a community-benefits committee member, expressed disappointment over what she considered a lack of transparency and neighborhood representation during the past several months. "It just hasn't panned out to be in the best interest of the community," she said.

But Councilman Ivory Young, who represents English Avenue and Vine City, disagreed with Jones' notion. In calling for the plan's approval, he promised greater accountability from city leaders and ongoing community involvement. "We're making more investments in people this time than buildings," Young said.

Mayor Kasim Reed last week raised the possibility that neighborhood investments would be far greater than the $30 million tied to the plan. During the final community-benefits meeting, he said the city is currently in the process of applying for federal "Choice Neighborhoods" grants worth upward of $250 million and has tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure repairs planned in the stadium communities.

"I'm pleased the Atlanta City Council has passed a plan that I am confident will benefit the westside communities that are most affected by the construction of a new Falcons stadium," Reed said in a statement. "Our work, however, is far from done. It is critical that the $30 million investment provided by the Arthur Blank Foundation and Invest Atlanta be spent wisely, and in a manner that truly assists these communities and those who live in them. I believe the plan lays out a framework that outlines our priorities for these resources with input from the affected communities."

Council also passed an accompanying proposal to establish a committee responsible for overseeing the stadium's workforce training and job-creation initiatives, which are expected to offer skills and trade development programs for local residents. The committee will also include representatives from Atlanta City Council, Reed's office, the city's human resources department, Invest Atlanta, Vine City Neighborhood Association, English Avenue Neighborhood Association, Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association, Atlanta Workforce Development Agency, and the North Georgia Building Construction and Trades Council.

Falcons execs are scheduled to break ground on the new stadium sometime in April 2014.

NOTE: This post has been updated to include Mayor Reed's statement.

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