The Price Is Right?: City leaders weigh pros, cons of $1 billion stadium project

By A. Scott Walton Executive Editor | 8/9/2013, 6 a.m.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed stood before what he considers a local press corps that’s adversarial Tuesday at City Hall and ...
Mayor Kasim Reed formally announced Tuesday that the city’s facilitation of an agreement between the Atlanta Falcons and Friendship Baptist Church has successfully ended. The church board accepted a $19.5 million offer to sell its property in the event that the south site is selected for the new Atlanta Falcons stadium. No city funds would be used to close this transaction; the Falcons would finance the cost of acquiring the property. (Photo by T.X.T Jahannes).

The prospect of placing a new Falcons stadium on the so-called “north site” has met with its fair share of criticism. The Marietta Street Artery Association, the Northwest Community Alliance and City Councilman Ivory Young, who serves the district north of the Dome, are among those who’ve been rallying opposition against opting to build on the so-called “north site”. All have expressed resistance to having a stadium intrude upon their current live/work conditions downtown.

The mayor implores all concerned parties to “come together” in agreement on a special events venue that he insists will be “the best in the world” for the next two or three decades.

Lloyd Hawk, the chairman of the Friendship Baptist board of trustees, stood fast with Reed saying succinctly: “We understand the potential benefits of the stadium being placed at the south site for the surrounding community.”

The sale proposal will be presented to the Friendship Baptist congregation of an estimated 400 members for approval.

Atlanta City Council member H. Lamar Willis remarked that there are still hurdles to clear before Atlanta’s proposed contribution to the new stadium construction goes forward.

“The Council has to say, ‘Yes, there is an appropriate community benefit’,” Willis said.

Referring to all of the key players who insist that companies owned by minorities and women be involved in the construction and operation of the stadium, as well as those adamant that neighborhoods in the MLK corridor  (Vine City, English Avenue, Castleberry Hill, etc.) must be revitalized by the project, Willis added: “They want to see (proof) that the hard commitment of $30 million or so for improvement of the community, and another $15 million that is kind of soft, gets paid out this time. When the Georgia Dome was built, it was promised to them but they didn’t really get it.”

City Councilwoman Felicia Moore – who was among those out-voted by an 11-4 margin against the mayor’s new stadium proposal – said she might be hard-pressed to vote in final approval of issuing tax funding for the project.

It all depends, Moore said, on, “How that (community development) money will be spent, and what it will be spent on and whether it will impact the community for the long term and not just be a one-time hit.”

City Council president Ceasar Mitchell said, in no uncertain terms, that he’s in favor of building a new state-of-the-art Falcons stadium, particularly if it is situated on the south side of downtown and especially if it gives women and minorities a chance to capitalize on the prospective opportunities.

“My support of it was strengthened by the Falcons’ willingness to make agreements around community investment and (minority) business inclusion,” he said.

The Atlanta Falcons’ proposed stadium project – and its potential financial windfall for the city’s tourism and convention revenues – has its skeptics. Chief among them is Morehouse College professor of economics, Dr. Gregory Price.

Price urges tax-payers to review studies of the economic impact of publicly funded buildings or renovation of stadiums in Oklahoma City (where the NBA’s Thunder play) or the greater Milwaukee area (where the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, Major League Baseball’s Brewers and the NBA’s Bucks play). The “Report by the Legislative Reference Bureau, April ‘13” summarized that cities with new stadiums merely experience a “substitution effect” where funds from one portion of the respective metro area shift temporarily to another.

“The net impact is zero,” Dr. Price said, while taking into account that construction workers get hired, vendors gain business and suppliers reap rewards.

“Maybe it’s a fact that the Falcons’ brand new stadium will attract new convention business. But will it transform the neighborhood surrounding it? Probably not. I share the view that it won’t have any significant economic impact. There are static input-output models at play. It’s all going to be a wash. It comes down to the question of ‘What are you spending, and what does it yield?’.”