Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Blank's Super Bowl dreams take center stage at extravagant stadium groundbreaking

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2014 at 12:16 PM

Falcons Owner Arthur Blank, Mayor Kasim Reed, and others break ground in a giant sandbox in International Plaza between the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena.
  • James Camp
  • Atlanta Falcons Owner Arthur Blank, Mayor Kasim Reed, and others "break ground" in a giant sandbox in International Plaza between the Georgia Dome and Philips Arena.
Last night, the Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank broke ground on its new stadium. And he pulled out every extravagance imaginable to commemorate the event: a futuristic multi-level stage, fog machines, fireworks, pyrotechnic flames, a booming cinematic soundtrack, shiny chrome shovels, and a 3-D light show featuring renderings of the new sports shrine.

The mustached Home Depot co-founder did so with the hopes of impressing other National Football League franchise owners, many of whom were already in town for an owner's meeting taking place today. His peers, along with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, were offered an early look at what Atlanta's proposed $1.3 billion stadium might look like once it's built.

Falcons execs and city officials expect construction for the football and soccer facility, which up to $278 million could be paid for in hotel-and motel-tax revenue bonds, to be finished in 2017. If that timeline holds up, Atlanta would first be eligible to host a Super Bowl in 2019.

Its not truly a stadium groundbreaking without flames!
  • James Camp
  • It's not truly a stadium groundbreaking without flames!
Given that NFL owners were in town to, among other things, select the 2018 Super Bowl host, Blank made his case to bring the following year's NFL championship game back to Atlanta. In case that wasn't clear by his remarks, groundbreaking attendees only had to look around at the festivities in International Plaza or gaze toward the sky to see a plane flying a banner that read: "Break ground on a Super Bowl too." A Blank spokesperson declined to comment on how much the ceremony cost. Mayor Kasim Reed's spokeswoman Melissa Mullinax tells CL that no public money was used to fund the event.

"2019 is our hope," Blank said after the groundbreaking. "That's our aspiration, and we'll see where that takes us, but that's our hope."

The allure of pricey, world-class stadiums and big-ticket championships took center stage throughout the evening. But continued questions remain about how, and if, the struggling neighborhoods surrounding the stadium would be improved by the project. Blank said that the stadium would be "connected" to the area's community, but didn't provide many specifics, and instead mostly focused on NFL games, MLS matches, and other one-off marquee events.

Blank briefly touched on the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation's upcoming work, which he said would make a "tremendous difference in these west side neighborhoods." And he expressed his commitment "to be a catalyst for sustained, real change" in English Avenue, Vine City, and other nearby communities.

"The first challenge is to build this iconic unique stadium, sports and entertainment venue, and we're going to do that, and we will do that," Blank said. "But frankly that's going to be the easiest part of the job. The more difficult part of the job is to make a lasting change is these communities in ways that we look back at in years to come and say, 'we changed the human capital, we made a difference in people's lives.'"

Welcome to my glorious new palace, Atlanta.
  • James Camp
  • "Welcome to my glorious new palace, Atlanta."
One of the first ways that would happen, Blank said, is through the launch of the Westside Works, a program that would provide job training and place at least 100 local residents into stadium construction jobs during the next year. The Blank Family Foundation, which is planning to work with Construction Education Foundation of Georgia and Integrity Community Development Corporation, plan to launch the initiative's job training headquarters next month at the E.R. Carter School on Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard.

During the groundbreaking ceremonies, Reed commended the Falcons' $50 million infrastructure investments and Blank Family Foundation's $15 million in philanthropic contributions. The city plans to match the $15 million investment into English Avenue, Vine City, and Castleberry Hill. The funding comes from a special tax district and can only be spent in the neighborhoods and Downtown.

The mayor also told reporters that Westside Works' efforts would be a major first step in helping local residents gain employment and become a part of the $1.3 billion stadium project. When asked by reporters what he'd say to stadium-area residents, some of whom remain skeptical about the project, Reed reaffirmed the city's commitment to those neighborhoods.

"I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating," Reed said. "Rather than talk about it, we'll just live it. The good thing about this is that we're all going to be together for the next four years. We'll either see if we make the kind of investments we talk about. Or we don't, and then we'll all be able to judge real-time whether we did what we said we were going to do or not. I think it's more important to live it than to talk about it."

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