Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New coalition wants City Council to rescind public financing for Falcons stadium

Posted By on Wed, Mar 5, 2014 at 10:22 AM

Atlantans For a Fair Deal protest outside City Halls front steps.
  • Max Blau
  • Atlantans For a Fair Deal protest outside City Hall's front steps.
A coalition of watchdog groups and residents from English Avenue and Vine City have banded together to stop taxpayer dollars from being used to fund the proposed Atlanta Falcons stadium.

At a press conference yesterday, Common Cause Georgia, Atlanta Tea Party, and residents from neighborhoods near the proposed site gathered in front of City Hall to announce a concerted effort, called "Atlantans For a Fair Deal," to block at least $200 million public money intended to fund the proposed $1.2 billion complex.

"Everybody seems to say it's over," Common Cause Georgia Executive Director William Perry says. "The train's on the tracks, it's speeding down the way. But the problem with that is that it ain't over yet."

The city is currently fighting a lawsuit filed by Vine City residents in Fulton County Superior Court contesting the issuance of bonds that would fund the public's contribution to the stadium. Until that's resolved - the judge wants to hear back from both sides next month - the city can't move forward on the project's construction.

Because of that, the coalition says there's still time for Council to reconsider stadium legislation it "irresponsibly" passed to extend the city's hotel-and-motel tax for another 30 years to help offset stadium construction costs.

Until now, the Atlanta Tea Party has not actively opposed the Falcons stadium. Co-founder Debbie Dooley tells CL that she has personally criticized the Falcons stadium process, but did not take a public stance against the funding before because groups such as Common Cause Georgia had led the charge. Her group now joins the fight after Perry asked for their support.

"There's a lot of businesses in the City of Atlanta that would've liked to have gotten the same deal Arthur Blank had," Dooley says. "Why discriminate against those small businesses or other corporations? If you going to have a project like this, allow a referendum of the people to decide if that's what they want. It should be decided by the people, not in backroom deals by elected officials and politicians that will receive the perks from the deal. Let the people decide."

In addition, the Rev. Anthony Motley spoke out on behalf of stadium neighborhood residents and questioned why Council has sided with the Falcons instead of local communities. Longtime activist Joe Beasley denounced the demolition of a portion of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive that has blocked a crucial thoroughfare that connects Downtown and westside communities.

"We keep wondering why it is that our City Council, which is majority African American, sold our city, sold our communities - Vine City, English Avenue, Castleberry [Hill] - why they sold us down the river," Motley said.

Perry thinks this push will be different than an unsuccessful attempt to place the stadium funding on last November's ballot. The petition drive, he says, was an important start toward getting to this point. But Common Cause Georgia was only able to gather an estimated 10,000 signatures by hand - online support didn't count, per City Hall rules. This time around, they're only looking to convince eight councilmembers to support a motion calling for a better stadium deal.

"Last time was David vs. Goliath," Perry said about the unsuccessful petition drive. "This time is about slaying dragons. This group is [made up of] dragon slayers and we're going to take them down."

If Atlantans For a Fair Deal convinces Council to rescind the stadium deal, the coalition wants a new plan to include:

1. Place a cap on the amount of monies made available to the Falcons for operations and maintenance and a legal requirement imposed upon the Falcons to match it.
2. Make available any leftover monies for civic improvements, community revitalization and economic development, especially in those neighborhoods most severely impacted by the new stadium.
3. Require The Falcons to pay their fair share of local property taxes to the City and Atlanta Public Schools.
4. Be a binding commitment by the Falcons to use commercially reasonable efforts to use Atlanta-based businesses to do the work and to report back to the community on the results.
5. Prohibit any money going to state agencies unless City agencies get an equal amount.
6. Consider credible alternatives to the re-routing of MLK, Jr. Blvd and the current positioning of the stadium on the site, so as not to wall off and further isolate a community whose economic vitality is already at risk.

The coalition has requested to meet with each individual councilmember in the coming weeks. They're also asking Atlanta residents to call their respective councilmembers and Mayor Kasim Reed's office to place additional pressure on their elected officials.

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