New Stadium A Perversion Of Priorities

January 10, 2012 13:00 pm

by Charlie · 28 comments

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Much of the attention of the T-SPLOST to be voted on in the Atlanta region is focused on opposition from TEA Party filled suburbs.  A significant amount of opposition remains within the urban core of Atlanta, with residents of Fulton and DeKalb counties seeking “transit equity”.  Many are not amused that they have already paid an extra 1% sales tax for four decades and are now being asked to pay yet another 1% so that the transit system which they have paid for can be extended into the suburbs.

MARTA remains the only major city transit organization in the country that does not receive any state funding.  Fulton and DeKalb taxpayers pick up the bill, along with some federal monies.  The opposition from these two counties is likely the easiest to fix, but will require tangible recognition that they built a transit backbone that will serve as the core of any regional solution.  They, after all, still have the very tangible debt for doing so.  MARTA currently has roughly $1.6 Billion in bonds outstanding.

The political reality, however, is that Republican leaders who dominate those same suburban areas as well as leadership positions within the General Assembly are not likely to divert substantial money from the General Fund to contribute to MARTA.  Even those who recognize the need will point to a thin budget and other statewide needs and priorities.  There is an amount of state controlled money that originates and is spent within Atlanta that can be redirected to support MARTA: Atlanta’s hotel/motel tax.

The hotel/motel tax has already been extended in preparation of building yet another football stadium downtown, possibly even next door to the existing Georgia Dome.  The Falcons want a newer facility to increase team revenues.  To accomplish this, they now claim they need an outdoor stadium.  They “needed” a Dome when their current venue was constructed less than 20 years ago.  While Arthur Blank is a fine man and good corporate citizen, using approximately $400 Million of taxpayer funds to duplicate football facilities for his sole benefit is a waste of scarce resources and represents a horrible perversion of priorities.

Supporters of a new stadium point to Atlanta’s ability to attract a Super Bowl, noting Atlanta will not see another one without the Falcons getting new digs.  NFL owners have determined Atlanta is not a “warm weather city” courtesy of an ice storm which coincided with our last Super Bowl.  As such, semi-official rules require a new stadium for us to receive another weekend in the spotlight.

For those using one weekend of publicity and full hotel rooms as a reason to spend $400 Million of taxpayer funds, they may want to consider former Governor Perdue’s “Go Fish” initiative.  The Governor decided during a time of budget cuts which required teacher furloughs and closing a state run Veterans’ home that Georgia needed to spend $20 Million on boat ramps and a fishing museum.

“Go Fish” became the comparison of which all other spending was measured.  Georgia could spend $20 Million on fishing, but it couldn’t spend money on teachers.  On veterans.  On trauma care.  Go fish represents the last Governor’s monument to misplaced priorities.  The Falcons proposed stadium involves 20 times the dollars over the next 20 years.

This same amount of money could retire 25% of MARTA’s outstanding debt, or fund most of the transit portion of the Beltline.  With likely federal matching funds, it could fund the Peachtree Streetcar.  Yet Georgia’s leaders are quietly preparing to let identified needs go unfunded so that the value of the Falcon’s franchise can be increased.

As politicians and business leaders campaign for T-SPLOST, the rhetoric has indicated the critical nature of the vote, noting “there is no Plan B” and failure would send a signal that “would be disastrous”.  Those same leaders need to be asked why the Falcons are being given a gift of $400 Million when infrastructure that will be used more than 8 Sunday’s a year cannot be built with available funds.

Atlanta and the State would be better off if the Falcons were either given the Georgia Dome when the bonds are paid off in a few years, or at least given operating rights for a lease of $1 per year.  The Falcons can then decide how best to maximize revenues out of an existing, paid for facility, while the State can use the money from hotel/motel taxes to finally make a contribution to the transit system so integral to downtown.

For the T-SPLOST to have a chance at passing, voters must have confidence that funds are being used to maximum benefit.  Taxpayers are not likely to vote to tax themselves at the same time the State prepares to needlessly squander $400 Million.  These funds must be kept for transit purposes inside the Perimeter, not to be used for yet another football stadium.

 

NoTeabagging January 10, 2012 at 1:34 pm

Dear Readers:
Help me out here. The GA Dome has hosted two or three Super Bowls, Why can’t it host another one?
http://www.stadiumsofprofootball.com/superbowl/GeorgiaDome.htm\

I totally agree, we do not need to invest in another stadium, our current downtown ATL facilities can handle enough convention, sporting events and tractor pulls.

It would help if MARTA got with the program and coordinated with large events and upped their service for peak travel during downtown events. They might get more riders.

I can relay one story from a family member that comes twice a year to the ATL furnishings markets. His fellow salespeople stay OTp due to high rates of the Hotels near the MARTA. They would use MARTA but discovered the trains to Dunwoody doesn’t run past 7pm. They are stuck at Lindbergh and would have to take bus or cab to the hotel, which was walking distance to a MARTA station. This year they are investigating hotels on MARTA lines with evening service, but are also considering finding a cheap auto lot and driving in anyway. If MARTA wants Hotel tax money, then they need to accommodate the tourist and business traveler.

gt7348b January 10, 2012 at 4:51 pm

As a daily user of MARTA, they can still take the train to their hotel on the red line – you just have to change trains at Lindbergh after 7 PM. So, no, you aren’t stuck at Lindbergh after 7. Take a train to Lindbergh, get off, as soon as the train leaves for Doraville, MARTA usually has a train pulling in to pick up those passengers continuing to North Springs. I passed a sign today at Peachtree Center (where the Americasmart is located) informing passengers that if they travel to North Springs after 7 PM, they need to change trains at Lindbergh. It is also on all their system maps in the stations, on the train and online. You can even use the Google maps trip planner. I have my own issues with MARTA, but they don’t leave you stranded at Lindbergh after 7 PM if you’re trying to go to Dunwoody.

I completely agree with the Charlie regarding the stadium.

NoTeabagging January 17, 2012 at 10:05 am

Thanks GT. Not sure if this year’s visitors figured that out. But you can see how confusing it is to riders if MARTA cannot provide this info properly at the stations and to the masses of mart and conventioneers.

Baker January 10, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Thank you Charlie. Kyle Wingfield has talked about it a little but Big Atlanta Media should be hammering on this before it even gets started. And good of you to make the transit connection. Is Big Atlanta Media skeered of Arthur Blank? What’s the deal?

Some genius started an awkwardly worded, sparsely populated Facebook page dedicated to the bipartisan effort to stopping the waste of taxpayer money on a new stadium. Check it out and spread the word.
http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Save-Falcons-Habitat-Keep-the-Dome/147025202029129?sk=wall

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm

“Is Big Atlanta Media skeered of Arthur Blank? What’s the deal?”

Yes, they are “skeered”….”Skeered” that the Atlanta Falcons will be the Los Angeles Falcons if Blank doesn’t get the new publicly-funded outdoor stadium that he so desires.

CobbGOPer January 10, 2012 at 6:01 pm

With the way they’ve been playing, I’m half tempted to let them go to Los Angeles anyway…

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 10, 2012 at 6:29 pm

As long as the Falcons stay in Atlanta, they’ll always be kind of a ‘second fiddle’ of sorts to college football in a market dominated by out-of-town transplants from around the country and a very healthy preoccupation with college football.

Even with the way the Birds’ played in the 24-2 loss to the New York Football Giants, they’ve still never had this type of sustained success at any time during their existence in which they’ve finished with a winning record four years in a row and made the playoffs in three out of four years.

griftdrift January 10, 2012 at 3:19 pm

“The GA Dome has hosted two or three Super Bowls, Why can’t it host another one?

The NFL has tacitly said it will only give Super Bowls to cities with guaranteed good weather or new stadiums.

UpHere January 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Falcons will not be getting a new stadium. The legislative members of the GWCC have made this perfectly clear.

Calypso January 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm

“To accomplish this, they now claim they need an outdoor stadium. They “needed” a Dome when their current venue was constructed less than 20 years ago. While Arthur Blank is a fine man and good corporate citizen, using approximately $400 Million of taxpayer funds to duplicate football facilities for his sole benefit is a waste of scarce resources and represents a horrible perversion of priorities.”

“Supporters of a new stadium point to Atlanta’s ability to attract a Super Bowl, noting Atlanta will not see another one without the Falcons getting new digs. NFL owners have determined Atlanta is not a “warm weather city” courtesy of an ice storm which coincided with our last Super Bowl. As such, semi-official rules require a new stadium for us to receive another weekend in the spotlight.”

Is it just me, or are the two schools of thought in the above paragraphs diametrically opposed to each other? ATL is *not* a warm-weather city, but we need an open stadium? Huh? The ice storm coinciding with the Super Bowl of 10 years ago would have been mitigated by an open stadium in what way?

What the hell am I missing here, or am I at fault for applying logic and common sense to Blank’s new stadium demands?

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm

“What the hell am I missing here, or am I at fault for applying logic and common sense to Blank’s new stadium demands?”

Yes, Calypso, you are at fault for using your brain to apply the simplest of logic and common sense to Blank’s new stadium demands.

Blank and the powers-that-be got their panties all wadded up in a bunch when NFL Commissioner Goodell was in town a few years ago and indirectly remarked that the only way that Atlanta would ever possibly host a Super Bowl again was if a new outdoor stadium was built since Goodell is supposedly high on outdoor stadiums being built when he remarked that “Football should be out in the elements”.

Since Goodell’s comments, roughly a couple of years ago, the race has been on to build a new outdoor stadium for the Falcons at all costs as a desperate attempt to eventually lure a Super Bowl back to Atlanta.

griftdrift January 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm

Not Blank. The NFL. That’s where the cognitive dissonance occurs.

jiminga January 10, 2012 at 4:24 pm

If Arthur Blank needs a new stadium, he should write a check and build it. $400 million for a building that gets used 8 times per year? That’s good business????? I hardly think Home Depot was run that way.

Calypso January 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Yeah, but The Home Depot wasn’t built with OPM.

Joshua Morris January 10, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Being an engineer, I have to ask the question: What would it cost to retrofit the dome into an outdoor stadium? Could it not be done in an offseason for far less than $400 million? Certainly the structure of the existing venue would work since the roof doesn’t really add to the structural stability of the building. I would also think that any other indoor only events that happen in the dome could be moved to Philips Arena to make up for the lack of hockey events, etc., there.

I’m no expert on these facilities, but I have to wonder if all options are really being considered.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 10, 2012 at 5:57 pm

But the whole idea is not necessarily to just have an outdoor stadium as much as it is to have an outdoor stadium with an expanded number of luxury suites. Just simply removing the roof from the Georgia Dome wouldn’t help expand the number of luxury suites needed to enhance team revenues even further.

Also add to the fact that the Georgia Dome is 20 years old, which makes it a dinosaur in today’s era of brand new corporate-sponsored retro-styled stadiums with maximum amounts of corporate-leased luxury suites.

Dave Bearse January 10, 2012 at 9:30 pm

A new stadium would largely serve a few thousand rich / VIPs attending games at everyone else’s expense. The new stadium will have more and better luxury boxes. The additional capital expense will be borne by rank and file in seats that will cost $10+ more than they do now, for essentially no change in experience.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 10, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Your point being?….

A few thousand rich VIP’s attending games at everyone else’s expense in a brand new stadium with more and better (and bigger) luxury boxes in which the capital expense is borne by fans in ‘cheap’ seats that cost $10 more than they do now (and the taxpayers)?

You just described the *PERFECT* new stadium funding plan from the standpoint of the NFL. Add to that, the specter of an empty Los Angeles megamarket which can be used by owners and the league for negotiation purposes with local governments who fear that teams may be relocate to L.A. if they don’t cooperate with owners’ every demand for new stadiums full of extravagant new luxury boxes for wealthy and corporate interests and you’ve got the perfect (publicly-financed) boost to the NFL’s highly-profitable business model.

gt7348b January 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm

HOK (I think) did a study about a year ago I think about building a new stadium or retrofitting the Dome for GWCC. I think it showed that it would be about the same cost, but you can contact GWCC for a copy. I don’t remember seeing one online.

UpHere January 10, 2012 at 6:41 pm

The true issue the Falcons have with the Dome is the contract between them and the state. It was brokered when Tom Murphy was Speaker and he required the state receive more money from the Falcons, more than most NFL teams pay for a stadium agreement, in the rental contract. The Falcons, now, want to get out of that deal to one that is more accomodating to their pocketbook.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 10, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Even though I’m not too high on MARTA these days (I’m even less-high on GDOT), I also agree with Charlie that the $400 million from the hotel/motel tax would be better spent helping the much-maligned MARTA than building a new outdoor stadium that will be used only eight times a year.

Though, if I may interject, if we are going to ‘go dumb’ and spend hundreds-of-millions of dollars to build a new football stadium while neglecting other very pressing and critical needs, then we might-as-well go all the way dumb and build a stadium with a retractable roof that has a Taj Mahaj of football shrine-like quality to it, seeing as though Atlanta is a college football and prep football hotbed in a region of the country where the sport of football, especially college and prep football, is arguably more popular than anywhere else on the continent, possibly even Texas.

Any new stadium that would be built should be a cross between ‘Jerryworld’ in Dallas, the retro-styled Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and Reliant Stadium in Houston. Notice that all three of those recently-built stadiums have retractable roofs, even though two of those three cities, Dallas and Indianapolis have less average precipitation than Atlanta, though Indianapolis does have colder average temperatures. Any new stadium that would be built should also be designed and built with the intention of enhancing Atlanta’s status as a top-tiered convention town by increasing Atlanta’s attractiveness as a place to hold conventions, trade shows, corporate meetings, etc.

Joeventures January 10, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I agree very much with this post. But there is one thing I would add — and this is a matter of civic pride.

They could at least afford to update the look. Now I’ve never been inside the Georgia Dome. But the outside is a painful reminder of when this facility was designed and built. That whole neon teal/pastel pink combination was typical of the politically correct ugly civic architecture look that was prevalent during the late 80s. (Though, in defense of the design firm, they did manage to mute the teal and keep it to a minimum. Good job.)

And it’s certainly worth looking into the cost of taking off that roof. It’s been many years since our skyline (looking east) was ever remotely attractive. Once the Georgia Dome was built, it’s as though our skyline was infected with a gigantic zit. $20 million of Retin-A treatment will do our civic pride a lot of good.

The Last Democrat in Georgia January 10, 2012 at 9:48 pm

I wouldn’t be so down on the Georgia Dome’s ‘impact’ has has on our skyline as that “gigantic zit” has a direct economic impact of close to $3 BILLION per year on the Atlanta Region and Georgia economies and in addition to hosting ten Atlanta Falcon home football games (preseason and regular season), that “gigantic zit” hosts numerous major events annually including concerts, conventions, trade shows, college football games (the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game, the ultra highly-regarded SEC Championship Game and the Chick-Fil-A/Peach Bowl), high school football games, college basketball games (will host the highly-regarded ACC Basketball Tournament and NCAA Tournament games in 2012 and will host the NCAA Mens’ Final Four in 2013), etc.

Removing that roof from the Georgia Dome would cost all parties involved way more than it would be worth considering all of the numerous indoor events that the Dome plays host to on a very frequent basis.

Taking note of all of the numerous indoor events that the Georgia Dome frequently plays host to underscores the need for having a large multi-purpose facility with a roof of some type whether it be permanent or retractable.

That roof has had a much more positive impact and brought in a lot more money to the local economy than would have been brought in without it over the past 20 years.

seekingtounderstand January 10, 2012 at 9:00 pm

Any truth to the possiblility that we are really looking at a 2 cent tax if the mayors get their way
and get all the counties in the ARC to pay the marta tax. Its in the legislation, yet no one is talking about this…………………..a vote yes is really a 2 cent tax vote for lots of people.

Rambler1414 January 11, 2012 at 10:34 am

“Its in the legislation, yet no one is talking about this”
Where?

As of today, a vote yes for T-SPLOST would be on top of the 1-cent that Fulton and DeKalb have been paying into MARTA for years. This would not apply to “all of the counties in the ARC” (my understanding)

gt7348b January 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm

The one cent sales tax for Mass Transportation (i.e. the MARTA tax) can only be levied in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Gwinnett, and Fulton because they are the only counties listed in the MARTA Act. Since the MARTA Act predates the 1981 consitution and is grandfathered in and was passed as a local constitutional amendment mechanism that is no longer in the Georgia Constitution, it is my understanding that no other county bar those five are able to levy what we call the MARTA Tax. The TIA aka TSPLOST one cent sales tax would be levied equally across all ten counties in ARC on top of the existing 4% state sales tax and what ever special local taxes each county levies (in Fulton – Education, MARTA and the other one (HOST? – I forget)). Bottom line, the vote is to add one cent (not two) across 10 counties – nothing more and nothing less.

gt7348b January 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Oh – and which ARC are you talking about? I’m assuming the 10 counties on the ARC board of Directors, but there are also another 8 counties who are limited members for purposes of the federal transportation planning process and a further 2 (for a total of 20) for the air quality non-attainment region. I forget how many counties are in the Metro North Georgia Water District and I’m not going to mention that GRTA is only thirteen counties, but they could exercise their authority in 20 but have chosen not to at this point.

Charlie January 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Well, Tom Baxter has just tweeted that the Governor’s budget request includes $15 Million to purchase a new site for the Falcons stadium, so I guess we’re up to $415M in misplaced priorities.

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