Community Development Funds for the New Atlanta Falcons Stadium
Along with the plan to build the new Atlanta Falcons Stadium, the Blank Foundation and Invest Atlanta have agreed to provide the city of Atlanta with an endowment of 30,000,000 dollars intended for local community development. There is considerable debate revolving around the question of how the city will spend the money, and to what causes it will be channeled. Atlanta's most important newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has published a number of articles addressing the communities' desire for participation in plans to build a new stadium. In May, 2012, the newspaper reported that residents and civic groups wanted to negotiate for access to jobs for the local community. The process really got off the ground in 2013 when the city committed a portion of the financial responsibility and the City Council passed a vote to approve the deal.
The site for the stadium was officially announced after the purchase of two churches located just south of the Georgia Dome. The expected price was listed at $1 billion-plus. The city of Atlanta will contribute approximately $200 million dollars toward the construction costs from bonds backed by Atlanta's hotel-motel tax, the rest of which will be funded by the Falcons and revenue raising strategies. Atlanta's Mayor, Kasim Reed, assisted in the negotiations with Mount Vernon Baptist Church, and Friendship Church. Resulting in the purchases of each property for 14.5 million and 19.5 million respectively (AJC, 1 Oct, 2013). Commenting on his role in the process, Reed told the AJC "I'm proud of the hard work we invested in the south site as the best location for the new stadium...it took a little more work to get us this place, but the long-term sustainability of the stadium and the surrounding neighborhoods were important priorities for me." (AJC 01 Oct, 2013). The city is firmly behind the process.
Community representative Tillman Ward, who was the chairman of the Neighborhood Planning Unit during the negotiations for the Georgia Dome, stressed the mistakes that were made in the past. He argued that the Georgia Dome cut off Vine City from the center, and reduced the local business activity. Ward lamented the past deals, stressing the mistake of taking people for their word, which had not work out very well. The greatest growth of business in Vine City has been parking lots that service the crowds on football Sundays (AJC, 26 May, 2012).
On August 3, 2013, the AJC wrote "long before a shovel can break ground for the new Falcons stadium, city officials and community leaders must decide how to divvy up the $30 million the city and team owner Arthur Blank have pledged to neighborhoods most disrupted by the proposed arena." The article also indicated that despite the early stages of negotiations, the community representatives are unhappy with the process. Resident Torrey Waters told the newspaper "should we all leave since we're just watching this community meeting?" adding "if you want community involvement, why just have us watch?" (AJC, 03 Aug, 2013). The newspaper claims that a community benefits plan must be completed and submitted to the city before the $200 million city contribution would be issued. Councilman Michael Julian Bond, and resident of Vine City stated his skepticism: "there have been well-meaning people in the community who have been granted resources in the past and haven't delivered." Invest Atlanta declined an interview with the newspaper, but stressed that they were taking the process seriously. (AJC, 03 Aug, 2013).
Community representatives from Vine City and English Avenue expressed their shock on November 22, that a "community benefits package" was passed without their approval. This package announces how the 30 million dollar investment would be spent. These residents are in opposition to Councilman Julian Bond, unsatisfied with the legislation that is proceeding to a vote. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Bond claims that he was trying to keep the stadium building process on track, while neighborhood planning representative Yvonne Jones, questioned how a document could go to a vote without the committee having any knowledge of it. However, the fact remains that approval is not required for the city to move the draft ahead. It has been a difficult process of identifying the role that community representation will play, which includes some resentment from failed development promises that came with the construction of the Georgia Dome. And yet the two sides are struggling to find consensus regarding how the 30 million should be used. One step in the process has become clear: organizations will have to apply to either the Invest Atlanta (which will have $15 million) or to the Blank Foundation (which will have a separate $15 million) to receive financing. (AJC, 22 Nov 2013).
source: 90.1 WABE- Atlanta's NPR Station. Nov 20, 2013.
Three days later, on November 25, 2013, the "community benefits package" proposal was approved and will head to the Atlanta City Council for further deliberation. If passed, the city's contribution of $200 million in bonds can be issued for stadium construction. According to the AJC, the funds are "geared toward developing project-specific goals to address environmental impact, traffic congestion, public safety concerns and potential gentrification." (AJC 25 Nov, 2013). The imperative to quickly process the plan is due to the delay caused by negotiations with the churches, said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
The Community Benefits Plan can be found here:
Community Benefits Plan