Georgia Dome Attracts Top Events As Is

December 3, 2012 13:00 pm

by Charlie · 19 comments

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Saturday didn’t go exactly as I had hoped.  The game between the University of Georgia and Alabama was one for the ages.  Alas, this was not to be Georgia’s year.  I was in 6th grade the last time it was our year.  My incoming gray hair reminds me that was a long time ago.  As a true fan, I will keep waiting, and keep cheering.

The day at the Georgia Dome was special.  For the first time, I was a guest in one of the Dome’s suites to watch the game, courtesy of a great friend who is someone I know well outside of politics.  These suites are much of the focus in the desire to replace the current facility with a new one, though the official reason is so that the Falcons can play under a retractable roof.

Retractable roofs do not improve a team’s cash flow, however.  More luxury suites which cost even more will.  Georgia taxpayers are being asked to back $300 Million in new bonds that will be paid with Atlanta Hotel Motel tax dollars between now and 2050.  They’re also being asked to waive sales taxes on construction materials.  And to buy the land for the new stadium.  And to make traffic infrastructure improvements around the area of construction.  A half billion dollars is a nice, round number that taxpayers should use when looking at their total contribution for this gift to the Falcons and their owner, Arthur Blank.

As evidenced by Saturday’s game, the Falcons are not the only team that uses the Dome. The SEC Championship game is one of the highest profile events held there, with a contract to continue doing so until 2017 – conveniently the time that the Falcons would like their new home ready.

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive gave glowing praise to the existing facility this past week in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, saying “the Georgia Dome has been terrific for us. The facility has been good and the Dome staff is really superb. And having the proximity of the World Congress Center so that we can have our FanFare running in conjunction with the game, that has become very popular. It’s that, plus the fact Atlanta is an easy city to get to. With the development of Centennial Park and all the surrounding events and places that people can go, it has worked out extremely well for us. And we are looking forward to continuing on, even beyond our current contract.”

The AJC’s natural follow-up was regarding his opinion of the plans for a new stadium and extending the SEC’s contract there.  He said that once the plans are finalized they will resume discussions, adding “we’ve not been unhappy at all with the current Dome. But we like the fact that the new stadium is projected to be in essentially the same footprint with the World Congress Center. It reaffirms the fact that Atlanta is committed to staying at the forefront and therefore even makes the game more attractive for us there.”

Supporters and detractors are likely to use these words as their own, as Slive is a good politician and understands he’s wading into an area of controversy.  Of note is that his primary concern – and strengths of the current setup – is the overall logistics of Atlanta and the Dome/Georgia World Congress Center campus.  While a new stadium would be shiny and a presumed upgrade, the package offered by Atlanta includes a relatively new Domed Stadium attached to a world class convention center, all surrounded by a convention and tourism district with restaurants and attractions for out of town guests.

All of that already exists today, without the additional half billion dollars of taxpayer money set to be earmarked to benefit one taxpayer – Arthur Blank.

The SEC, Georgia State’s Panthers, and many other groups use the Dome throughout the year.  It is part of the World Congress Center complex and as such, is an integral part of Atlanta’s convention business.

The case has not  been made, however, that committing a half billion dollars of taxpayers’ funds to replace one part of this complex with a similar building that functions largely the same for most spectators will provide more benefit to the city and state than it will cost.

Beware of rosy estimates that place the “value” of a new stadium as economic activity that we already have, with an existing facility.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the cheap seats, and one Saturday afternoon in the nicest of them.  What we have pleases the SEC and every other user of the Dome.  Additional taxpayer funds are not warranted for a replacement at this time.

Baker December 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Excellent. Keep it up Charlie, looking forward to the column from Mssr Dudgeon soon.

Spacey G December 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm

Can’t they just ship the whole butt-ugly circus tent somewhere other than Atlanta? How about Wayne or Randolf County, some BF place like that? Those good folk down there could sure use the kinds of jobs that come with a sports arena, like selling overpriced weiners and watery beer to people who want to watch other humans fetch balls.

There’d be plenty of parking somewhere other than The Gulch and the Castleberry district too, and I wouldn’t have to get routed right into Joe Tailgater Blow’s stinky, smoking grill just trying to get home from work.

Traffic on game days around the Dome (the Dome we got now or a Super Deluxe Model, doesn’t matter to me) is beyond terrible. Why do we always have to have stuff that clogs-up our streets like the Varsity clogs-up arteries?

Engineer December 4, 2012 at 11:47 am

“some BF place like that”, I take offense to that statement. Furthermore….

Randolph County: Pop. 7,700
Wayne County: Pop. 30,100

If you are going to make 30,000 the marker and have it in the middle of nowhere, then why not say somewhere like Dawson County (Pop. 20,600), Pickens County (Pop. 29,600), Butts County (Pop. 23,500), or Lamar County (Pop. 18,300)? After all, at least they are all in the Atlanta area and as we all know, you people love to keep everything Atlanta-centered anyways.

Ed December 4, 2012 at 12:10 pm

lol.

You said butts.

Noway December 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm

Great funny rant, Spacey! I wasn’t sure where you were headed with your watery weiners and overpriced beer comment!

The Last Democrat in Georgia December 3, 2012 at 7:13 pm

“The case has not been made, however, that committing a half billion dollars of taxpayers’ funds to replace one part of this complex with a similar building that functions largely the same for most spectators will provide more benefit to the city and state than it will cost.”

The case has not been made because there is no case to be made for committing at least half-a-billion dollars for replacing a perfectly good Georgia Dome that has quickly become obsolete in the current increasingly absurd NFL stadium arms race.

Replacing a 20-year-old Georgia Dome isn’t about need, it’s about want. It’s about staying one step ahead of a hard-charging Jerry Jones and a wickedly ambitious Dallas establishment that would quite literally sell their own mothers (and kipnap your mothers and sell them, too) to get the SEC Championship Game at Jerryworld.

20 years ago when the Georgia Dome opened, Atlanta was one of the very few games in town in terms of being a then up-and-coming landlocked big city with a then brand spankin’ new state-of-the-art football stadium and was almost literally the only game in town in terms of hosting an event as big as the SEC Championship Game, an event whose popularity has since skyrocketed through the roof into the stratosphere and has by far unquestionably become one of the biggest events in all of American sports.

Screw the NFL Falcons, even though the Georgia Dome is obviously still more than serviceable in the realm of rational thought, the powers-that-be that in the Atlanta establishment are not going to take even the slightest chance of losing the behemoth SEC Championship Game to a ruthlessly hard-charging Dallas establishment which features the relentless Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the 105,000-capacity Jerryworld (Cowboys Stadium).

Simply put, losing the SEC Championship Game would be akin to a city hosting the Super Bowl every year and losing it, seeing as how increasingly financially important the game of football and the Southeastern Conference have become to college athletics.

As the annual host of the SEC Championship Game, Atlanta has become the most important city in a conference in the SEC that has become the most important conference in a sport in college football that has become the most important sport in the world of college athletics and the powers-that-be in the Atlanta establishment are not about to in any way risk losing that ultra-important social status to Dallas, a city that so desperately wants to take Atlanta’s place atop the world of college athletics and transportation logistics.

This stadium issue isn’t about rationality or practicality, it’s about being #1 in social and financial status in an increasingly high-stakes competition with highly-aspirational Sunbelt competitors like Dallas (particularly Dallas, a city that has let it be known in no uncertain terms that they are out for Atlanta’s blood).

atlanta_advocate December 3, 2012 at 10:38 pm

I admit, I don’t love this project. I support it because in this current economic and political environment, this is the only big project likely to come to Atlanta anytime soon. The longer Atlanta does nothing, the further it falls behind.

The Last Democrat in Georgia December 3, 2012 at 11:23 pm

Besides Arthur Blank, who does love this project?

What city does love having a filthy rich billionaire put a gun to their head and threaten to move their NFL team to Los Angeles unless they replace a perfectly serviceable two-decade old stadium with a needlessly unnecessary billion-dollar stadium loaded with a zillion luxury suites for the super-wealthy and uber-connected privileged few? Especially when there are so many other pressing needs that should seemingly be addressed first and foremost (infrastructure, schools, public safety, etc).

atlanta_advocate December 4, 2012 at 10:31 am

And this starts the circular arguments going again. Prove to me that the $300 million from this revenue source is going to go towards infrastructure, schools, public safety, etc. Or that if the legislature shoots down this project, they are going to replace it with $300, let alone $300 million, for anything.

” zillion luxury suites for the super-wealthy and uber-connected privileged few?”

Funny that the Occupy rhetoric that is despised in other contexts is embraced in this one. When did all these Romney voters turn class warfare populists? Most Falcons fans won’t ever be able to sit in a luxury box. Big deal. How many inner city Atlanta school kids can afford to go the Georgia aquarium at $50 a pop? Maybe we should use the GWCC hotel/motel tax to subsidize field trips to the aquarium for APS kids getting free or reduced lunches instead because it is “educational”? See if Neal Boortz would like that idea.

I will back a more worthy project when the powers that be who oppose this identify said project and pledge their political support and capital behind it. Until then, this something beats Atlanta getting nothing.

The Last Democrat in Georgia December 4, 2012 at 1:18 pm

This isn’t about proving that the $300 million from the Hotel/No-tell Tax is going to go towards needs like infrastructure, schools, public safety, etc.

This is about the visual optics of the public seeing up to at least $300 million of public money being spent on the WANT of an even bigger brand spankin’ new playthingie (stadium) so that some already-loaded billionaire can make even fatter profits from increased luxury boxes for his super-wealthy cronies while various critical public NEEDS continue to go unfulfilled.

You can repeatedly make the same circular argument that technically the law must be changed by the Legislature for the hotel/motel tax to be spent on something other than a new stadium or uses at the GWCC property, but in these public debates that breakout to varying degrees in every NFL city whenever the idea of building a new stadium is proposed, the public does not care about the technicalities of laws concerning stadium and convention facility financing, they only see with their own two eyes that a new stadium with more bigger and larger luxury boxes is being built in place of a still very structurally sound and serviceable two-decade-old stadium while the sewers continue to backup and flood, the roads continue to crumble and the schools continue to increasingly suck.

These debates are not about legal technicalities, these stadium debates are about visual optics, plain and simple.

saltycracker December 4, 2012 at 8:00 am

Taxpayers being someone who rents a motel room in the City of Atlanta ?

Baker December 4, 2012 at 8:52 am

that money being allocated to the Dome means it isnt being allocated to something worthwhile like roads, a court-mandated fix for our 100 yr-old sewer system, transportation that I thought was so important to Mayor Reed during the TSPLOST.

Tourists don’t drive or poop?

atlanta_advocate December 4, 2012 at 11:02 am

@Baker:

Honestly, look at the economics of this deal. The $300 million isn’t coming in one check. It is going to be $15 million over 20 years. Go see the type of highways or sewer fixes that $15 million over 20 years will get you. In order to provide any real improvement, you would need a lot more of that money a lot sooner. Education? More of the same. What is an extra $15 million a year going to do for APS? The annual budget for APS is $575 million a year. There are some single high schools whose annual budget is more than $15 million.

“transportation that I thought was so important to Mayor Reed during the TSPLOST.”

That is exactly what I am talking about in my comment above. As soon as this stadium deal is defeated, the fiscal conservatives who oppose this will move right on to their next scalp to hunt. So, the same people who opposed the Beltline, MARTA and T-SPLOST before are going to approve spending $300 million on this? The people who keep claiming that this money needs to be spent on something “worthwhile” instead will also oppose whatever worthwhile project that the city wants to spend it on.

“Tourists don’t drive …”

That proves it. You want to take the $300 million and spend it on highways. Highways don’t benefit Atlanta. They benefit suburbanites who drive in and through the city but pay their taxes someplace else. Even the sewer issue … are you forgetting that Sonny Perdue and Shirley Franklin already dealt with that issue? Even still, addressing routine daily run of the mill “fixing potholes” stuff like that isn’t something that will put Atlanta in a better position to compete as a large, growing city. There are plenty of cities with far fewer potholes, much better working sewers and fewer public safety problems and – gasp! – lower taxes and more Republicans in leadership positions that are stagnant or declining in terms of economic and population growth because they don’t offer what the type of talented people that create jobs and industries are looking for. If you want a place without potholes and sewer problems, then go to Toledo, and good luck starting your freight shipping, software or biotech company there. The suburbanites – and those who share their mindset – who love to tell Atlanta about all the better, more worthy things that they need to spend their money on don’t spend a bit of time worrying about such matters.

But hey, Mayor Reed should call their bluff. He and the Atlanta-Fulton delegation should tell the Georgia legislature that they will withdraw their support of this project if and only if the legislature will allow the GWCC tax to be spent on MARTA or the Beltline. The GOPers in the legislature would stick their fingers in the wind, see that their re-election prospects would fare much better by voting for $300 million for a stadium than for MARTA, and they would fold.

Baker December 4, 2012 at 11:36 am

Good G-d man. You really don’t get it.

1) They’re selling bonds so that all of the money will come in one check. You can’t pay contractors who build the stadium over the course of 20 years.

2) There are boatloads of Atlantans who are against this and want it to be spent more wisely. Have you been to a meeting/ forum about it? Talk to the people there. Just because some dude in Cumming is against it and everything else, doesn’t mean that people in Atlanta can’t be against it and for something else.

3) I was all in for the TSPLOST and am a huge Beltline supporter, but to think that you’re going to find a solution for Atlanta’s transportation issues that doesn’t involve some road infrastructure? You’re living in Lala-land.

And Sonny and Shirley did deal with the sewer issue, except…wait…what’s that? Oh, the city couldn’t afford it and had to go back to court to beg for an extension?, which they got, so that “sewage spills that contaminate the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries” will continue to happen, homes in some areas will continue to be flooded (http://www.11alive.com/news/article/247935/3/Storm-water-raw-sewage-flood-Atlanta-homes).

http://www.ajc.com/news/news/atlanta-gets-13-year-extension-for-mandatory-sewer/nSGRq/

But don’t worry, in 2030 we’ll get around to really fixing it.

The Last Democrat in Georgia December 4, 2012 at 12:42 pm

“But don’t worry, in 2030 we’ll get around to really fixing it.”

You really think that we’ll get around to fixing it THAT SOON?

saltycracker December 4, 2012 at 9:52 am

I may not be properly following the money. Isn’t the hotel & motel tax something the City Council sets within the limits allowed by the State ?

Not sure what restrictions are put on the motel tax beyond promoting Atlanta as a tourist destination. But it appears left to the City to pick between roads, trains, sewers & public or private tourist attractions on where to spend the money.

Interestingly the Olympics taught Atlanta & the suburbs some road/Marta use and tourist lessons.

atlanta_advocate December 4, 2012 at 11:09 am

And how does fixing Atlanta’s sewers – and by the way the sewer issue was dealt with by Shirley Franklin and Sonny Perdue – promote Atlanta as a tourist destination? And how does building highways do so either?

Charlie’s position – that the restrictions on the law are arbitrary and can and should be changed – is legitimate. I disagree with his position – not on the merits, but mainly because I doubt that the legislature would allow the money to be spent on something that actually helps Atlanta compete for jobs and visibility and would be much more likely to either restrict its use to more mundane matters or siphon it off to build highways to benefit their suburban base – but it is a valid position. But claiming that the money can be used on sewers and highways without changing the law simply isn’t true.

atlanta_advocate December 4, 2012 at 11:09 am

This comment was meant as a reply to salty above.

Baker December 4, 2012 at 11:39 am

I recognize the law needs to be changed, but my point is there are so many more legitimate projects that Atlanta really needs to fix and therefore we need to push hard to get that law changed. I know we can’t divert the money without addressing the issue from a legislative perspective, but to say it’s a legitimate expense to build this $300 MILL monstrosity is outrageous.

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