The community voiced an emphatic "no." The legislators are unsure of the unbinding deal between the concerned parties. Curiously then, where is the political pressure coming from? High stake discussion on a new stadium all point towards misplaced priorities of the current legislature. These discussions camouflage issues of substance.
A case in point, a new stadium with a retractable roof for the Atlanta Falcons has become a toy of the powerful and a discussion topic. Instead of designing policies that favor citizens and promote long term sustainable economic growth, the legislature is sabotaged.
It is certainly not a straightforward construction proposal. The high stake murmurs seem to be taking place between the triad ̶ owner of the Falcons, Governor Nathan Deal and the Mayor of Atlanta, Kasim Reed. When these prominent players are involved in a deal, naturally, the murmurs reverberate within the hallways of the domes, conference rooms and the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA). The discussions on the proposal for a new stadium have also taken over dinner tables and happy hours. Within the past several weeks, this stadium construction has received extensive media coverage with the Fox news discussing possible sell out of the Falcons to the city of Los Angeles. So much for the loyalty factor towards Atlanta and the State of Georgia by placing our beloved Falcons at the center of the negotiations!
We love our Falcons. However, this love will not blind sight the whims and fancies of sport franchises included with a bargaining clause. Is there any public interest in discussing this private business enterprise? The community spoke in December 2012, when an overwhelming majority of 72 percent opposed to public financing of a $1 billion stadium with a retractable roof for the Atlanta Falcons.
Back in December, the Falcon owner Arthur Blank struck a deal with the GWCCA proposing to reconstruct a new stadium. The GWCCA is a state owned agency and its Board members are appointees of the Governor. This construction beckons $300 million in bonds backed through the hotel-motel tax revenue from the city of Atlanta and the Fulton County. If the deal goes through, the ownership of the stadium will be retained by GWCCA. The existing Georgia Dome would be demolished. If all moves forward, the infrastructure is projected to be up and running by 2017 National Football League season.
Upon completion, the GWCCA would lease the stadium to the Falcons under a 30-year license agreement for a specified annual rental income. The Falcons would retain all the revenue. However, among other environmental and economic concerns, at the core of these plans is the contention on the use of $300 million hotel-motel tax.
For the deal to go through, the lawmakers must vote on several components supporting the construction and feasibility of the proposed project. These are: first, extension of the hotel-motel tax. Second, authorize using these funds for stadium construction. Third, approve raising the debt limit ceiling. The current borrowing limit of GWCC is $200 million. This ceiling requires to be raised to accommodate the shortfall amount to $300 million. Fourth, approving the financial architecture, such as the bond framework, routing, tax breaks, and incentives.
It is apparent that the political pressure for a new stadium is coming from an existing private business seeking additional subsidy. Why then is legislative energy diverted towards this discussion rather than addressing Georgia’s core problems?
Georgia has the 5th highest poverty rate in the Nation. Over 2 million of Georgians are without health insurance. Unemployment rate remains well above 9.2 percent. With the depressing economy and surrounding poverty, hotel-motel tax could be put to better use instead of on pet project with a retractable roof.